Chud.com's advance review of Anna & The King:|
"A charming epic with a heart and a funnybone"
ANNA AND THE KING
Directed by Andy (Ever After, Fools Rush In) Tennant
Starring Jodie (Contact, Maverick) Foster, Chow (The Corruptor, Hard Boiled) Yun-Fat, Randall (The Replacement Killers, The Thin Red Line) Duk Kim, Bai (Wild Wild West, Red Corner) Ling
This is a variation on THE KING AND I, a film I didn't get into in any of its incarnations. That said, something about this production reeked of "surprise attack"so when the opportunity to see it came along I felt confident. The presence of the Asian Harrison Ford, Chow Yun-Fat helped and I've admired Jodie Foster since the underrated classic CONTACT.
The story is now classic and one that crosses most thematic boundaries (although Thailand is far too tightass to allow its citizens the opportunity to enjoy a classic work of fiction) so I'll lay it out here and then focus on the film.
Anna (Foster) and her son have arrived in Siam so she can teach the eldest son of King Mongkut (Fat) the sciences and literature that makes her home of England the hub of the worlds' power. Upon arrival, she immediately establishes her firmness and idealism and clashes with every one of the King's advisors over the details of her job and living quarters. Soon, she is face to face with the king himself and still not wavering, a practice which renders everyone but the king dumbstruck. Seeing a worthy adversary, he multiplies her workload to include his entire brood (over 45 kids spread out over a host of concubines) and begins to test her resolve.
So, it's obviously going to be a battle of wits, with the king having the advantage of being the king (it's good to be the king, you know). He plays with her like a cat with a mouse, but he sees her heart and begins to enjoy her efforts from a distance. Meanwhile, she bonds with his many kids (primarily his eldest and his cutest daughter, both portrayed to PERFECTION by the young performers) and soon they are expanding their minds to dangerous proportions (imagine a prince with thousands of slaves reading UNCLE TOM'S CABIN). Static is inevitable. What makes this film work, is that they don't dwell too much on the differences in custom.
The reason being the fact that her own country may be leading a resistance to remove the king from his rule (in fact, rid him and his entire brood of their very own lives). So now you have a relationship between the king and Anna that exists on many levels PLUS the new matters of politics and war. There is a very strong supporting cast at work here, from the British diplomats to the concubines to the children to the doomed lovers (which includes Asian superstar Bai Ling) to the couple of bickering elders that live with Anna and her son. It's amazing how such a variety of performers embody their roles and make this film seem like a classic from another age. This film is brand new but it could have been shot 30 years ago and considered a classic over the ages. It is class personified.
The film veers from THE KING AND I at several points, the best variance being a terrific climactic showdown which I won't spoil. All I'll say is that the film reached a new level of value because of it. The audience broke out in applause (which I normally hate because the purpose of applause is to let the performers know you appreciate their work and the performers in a film are long gone, but I felt glad this time because this film is one you have to root for) at the end which gave me a warm feeling, knowing that even though there weren't any musical numbers, expensive CGI effects, or generic money shots, the melting pot of an audience still felt it was a rewarding experience.
There is a lot that happens in this film which runs over 2 and a half hours that I couldn't mention it all. I will say that there is a terrific blend of heart, humor, excitement, and brains. It's a family film that deserves respect. As do the people who made the film...
Chow Yun-Fat is as good as they get. I was shocked that two 9mm automatic pistols didn't pop out of his sleeves when he wanted to throw down, but he not only matched Jodie Foster scene for scene he outdid her on some! He should open many dramatic new doors with this performance. I'm going to see this film again, and buy the DVD primarily because I cannot get enough of seeing him evolve in his English speaking roles. Jodie is Jodie, and that means you won't find her dragging a film down with her performance. She's solid as a rock (albeit one that won't come out of the closet and be who she is without fear of career implications) and her accent is damn good. She plays the earnest, powerful women really well. The supporting cast in excellent and memorable.
The film is as gorgeously photographed as any in recent memory and the director has taken a huge step up from the overrated EVER AFTER and pointless FOOLS RUSH IN. He was also wise to allow such a surprising amount of humor pepper what could have been a somber affair. Everyone pulled their weight, although there were a couple of scenes either shot at an astronomical frame rate to slow the footage down or frozen to "hold that pose" which could have been excised.
A film that I hope will be considered a classic and establish that you don't need a gimmick to update an older film.
8.9 out of 10
Reviewed by Nick Nunziata