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Overall Rating

Awesome: 22.09%
Worth A Look33.72%
Average: 19.77%
Pretty Bad: 22.09%
Total Crap: 2.33%

8 reviews, 38 user ratings

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Anna and the King
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by Andrew Howe

"Better than it has any right to be"
4 stars

On paper, Anna and the King didn’t have much going for it. Starring American Jodie Foster as a British schoolteacher and renowned mangler of the English language Chow Yun-Fat as the King of Siam, it possessed the hallmarks of yet another lavish but ultimately empty spectacle. The end result, however, is anything but, and the film’s success is largely down to the one thing most epics lack - restraint.

Anna Leonowens (Foster) arrives in Siam (now present-day Thailand) in the 1860's at the behest of King Mongkut (Yun-Fat). Like Dylan, Mongkut has realised that the times are changing, and that his country will either become part of the new world order or a victim of it. He decrees that his extended family will be trained in the ways of the English-speaking world, a task which falls to the recently-widowed Anna. This opens the way for a monumental clash of cultures, as our equally-proud and stubborn protagonists attempt to reconcile their differences against a backdrop of war, injustice and the bitter fruit of unfettered colonialism.

Foster is not a prolific actress, for she chooses her roles with care. Anna is a multi-faceted character- at turns proud, compassionate and vulnerable - and thankfully Foster possesses the range to do her justice. Proving that Meryl Streep isn’t the only actress who can master foreign accents, she is the epitome of a citizen of the British empire who, if she had been born forty years later, would probably have been a card-carrying member of the suffragette movement.

Chow Yun-Fat has been a staple of the Hong Kong action film industry for a good twenty years, but his natural charm has failed to translate to Hollywood efforts such as The Replacement Killers and The Corruptor. However, his casting as Mongkut is a masterstroke, since he brings a charisma to the role which makes it absurdly easy to understand why Anna might be strangely attracted to such a man. His English skills are more than adequate - considering English is Mongkut‘s second language, his delivery actually lends a ring of truth to his portrayal (I'll leave it to someone versed in Thai to vouch for his talents in that area). Most importantly, there is a definite chemistry between the leads, all the more so because it avoids the excesses of storybook romance (a love which can never be consummated is twice as affecting as a climactic roll in the hay).

The large supporting cast is also worthy of praise, making the most of their relatively brief screen time. Everyone has their five minutes of fame, from Anna's Indian housekeepers to Mongkut's earnest but likeable brother, providing a pleasant diversion to the relationship which, quite rightly, forms the core of the film.

Those expecting spectacle will not be disappointed, for the film hearkens back to the days when majesty was the filmmaker's friend. At times the colours are so vivid that you find yourself reaching for the sunglasses, and the usual cast of thousands is on hand to populate the scenery. The mysterious East infiltrates every shot, from ancient temples to lush waterways and steaming jungles, and the costumes are superb. It's a feast for the senses, and the film is worth catching for the visuals alone.

However, there is much more on offer than top-notch cinematography. It would all be for nothing if the script wasn't up to scratch, but it is here that the film truly makes its mark. The dialogue between Anna and Mongkut ranges from fiery exchanges to moments of aching tenderness, eschewing Hollywood schmaltz in favour of genuine emotion. This is a relationship between adults, and any sexual overtones are submerged beneath gentle affection and mutual respect.

Given the film's 140 minute running time, the scriptwriter obviously needed a background story to provide the film with the required momentum. This arrives in the form of a Machiavellian power struggle involving British traders, Burmese rebels and the Siamese army. This opens the way for an action-packed climax, featuring gratuitous explosions, nobility in the face of certain death, and a denouement which had me cheering in heartfelt approval.

There's also a running commentary on the evils of slavery which is, to be honest, somewhat heavy-handed. However, this is essentially a film about relationships, not a treatise on morality, so the fact that certain issues are presented in a superficial manner does not unduly detract from the film's merits.

There are two scenes which single-handedly raise this film to the heights to which it obviously aspires - a gut-wrenching execution sequence, and the touching, resonant finale. The former leaves you empty and desolate, while the latter is guaranteed to break the heart of anyone who has ever been forced to say goodbye for the final time. I cannot praise these moments too highly, and they ensure that this a film I will return to time and again in the years to come.

Anna and the King is that rarest of beasts - an epic which transcends the genre, partnering its lavish sets with a multi-layered script, involving characters and affecting performances. Forget what you've heard - this is something special, a film for everyone who's ever dreamt of dancing beneath the stars in a land far from home, in a time when the world still held a little mystery for those brave enough to make the journey.

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originally posted: 10/22/00 13:22:52
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User Comments

2/21/14 Tatia My favorite movie!! 5 stars
2/27/13 Julie Link great movie! 4 stars
11/11/10 H Crompton this is the best version 5 stars
2/01/09 Pat Great romantic story! 4 stars
3/12/08 LAW MY FAVORITE VERSION!!! 5 stars
11/06/07 kimberly valerio in the start it is boring but when the story continously i think it is ok.. 5 stars
7/20/07 deedee I loved the movie, in fact, I bought it. Jodie Foster was awesome, and Chow was too! 4 stars
4/02/07 Stanley Thai It's a good film but it too long to like it. 3 stars
1/09/07 christina it a good movie 5 stars
11/27/06 Sunsham Excellent movie - very touching and thought provoking. How much of it is real?? 5 stars
10/21/06 michael Marcos it so good 5 stars
10/17/06 danielle pretty good, i like the fact that the culture was very accurate 5 stars
5/06/06 Ashley Hinz Good movie, ruined by the grusomeness. 4 stars
7/14/04 tatum Long, hokey, but I could not help getting caught up in it 4 stars
6/03/03 Virgil I loved it. Very beautiful. 5 stars
12/13/01 stefanos lets see 4 stars
6/20/01 canvex still o.k 4 stars
2/11/01 Leather jacket Yall go shit on yourself, Anna is my princess anyday 5 stars
1/07/01 Ian Eagleton A bit long, but the acting is superb and the subplots are ultimately very moving. 4 stars
12/15/00 QuanVu nothing 5 stars
12/10/00 BrittenysPears GREAT MOVIE. Worth rental fee. Foster has a boney nose 5 stars
12/09/00 Savvy Chow Yun-Fat is PHAT. AMAZING movie rent it you wont regret it!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! 5 stars
2/09/00 fire-n-ice could have been better if an hour was cut out. very long winded. and no sex in that sucked. 3 stars
2/06/00 Kyle Broflovski Bah. 2 stars
1/21/00 node A stunningingly beautiful and inspiring motion picture,left me with a warm feeling inside. 5 stars
1/21/00 LC Worth it! 4 stars
1/04/00 Mckenzie Jackson Great film. Chow Yun Fat is great. 5 stars
1/03/00 crazy shithouse 1 stars
12/25/99 Tha Obsequious Bad Janatah A damn bore is what it is! Great review Lynchpyn! 1 stars
12/22/99 kim nguyen awesome 5 stars
12/21/99 Jennifer Yeh a MUST see ^_^ 5 stars
12/19/99 scottmar A bit long, without much payoff. 3 stars
12/19/99 Mr Showbiz Lovely to look at, though overlong and lifeless 3 stars
12/19/99 Jay So-so movie... Yun-Fatt oughta stick to action 3 stars
12/17/99 nil incredible 4 stars
12/17/99 Tracey Chow Yun-Fat and Jodie Foster are excellent! No songs! No guns! 5 stars
12/17/99 KC This has got ot be the BEST movie of the year, or the decade. It was so beautifully done! 5 stars
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  17-Dec-1999 (PG-13)



Directed by
  Andy Tennant

Written by
  Peter Krikes
  Steve Meerson

  Jodie Foster
  Chow Yun-Fat
  Bai Ling
  Mano Maniam
  Kenneth Tsang

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