Hollywood Reporter's advance review of Anna & The King:|
(Thanks to Jeff Koga for the heads-up on the review)
THE HOLLYWOOD REPORTER Monday, November 29, 1999 Page 7 and 39
Film review 'Anna and the King' By Kirk Honeycutt
[Accompanied by a photo of Jodie Foster, with the caption, "Jodie Foster does it all as an opinionated English teacher in Siam."]
"Anna and the King" marks a return to those old-fashioned romantic epics that find adventurous Europeans venturing into Asia, with plenty of Eastern exoticism, beguiling landscapes, conflicts in traditions, treacherous deeds and heroic rescues that champion the human spirit over vast cultural divides.
It's intriguing to watch modern filmmakers reinvent and redeploy the cultural stereotypes of the past while they successfully tiptoe along the tightrope of political correctness.
[Accompanied by a photo of Chow Yun-Fat, with the caption "Chow Yun-Fat brings he-man qualities to a truly majestic role.]
Exceptional production values in Malaysia coupled with winning and riveting performances by Jodie Foster and Chow Yun-Fat make "Anna" a holiday treat likely to curry favor with domestic and international audiences.
Still, it's going to take some marketing savvy to make people realize this film is more than "The King and I" stripped of Rodgers and Hammerstein's music. Most likely, word-of-mouth regarding the two lead performances will turn this into a hit film and Chow into an even bigger international star than he already is, thanks to Asian action movies.
As with its 1956 musical precedecessor and the even earlier "Anna and the King of Siam" (1946), this "Anna" celebrates the supposedly enormous impact on Siamese society by British teacher Anna Leonownes (Foster), who instructed the 70-odd children (and several concubines) of King Mongkut (Chow) in the 1860s.
The film, based loosely on her diaries, makes Anna pivotal in many of the forward-looking policies of the Chakri Dynasty -- its study of Western science and languages and the king's diplomatic accomodations to the imperial-minded West to help his nation avoid the greater evils of colonialism.
Thai officials have always hated "The King and I" and are not likely to embrace this version either, despite a much more sympathetic portrait of their king than Yul Brynner's macho Asian potentate. The point of view remains decidedly Anglo as Steve Meerson and Peter Krikes' screenplay has a headstrong and opinionated English teacher conquer the king's heart, turn his most beloved son Prince Chulalongkorn (Keith Chin) into a thoughtful man-child and almost single-handedly repel a Burmese invasion!
Could any one woman have done all these things? But historical accuracy is not really the point. One embraces this as a timeless fairy tale outfitted with the best special effects, production design, cinematography and location work Hollywood can muster.
Chow brings his he-man qualities to this truly majestic role of a king who combines the insight of a holy man with the innate wisdom of a commoner. He resists change with the pliant spirit of one who realizes change is inevitable if his country -- and dynasty -- is to survive. This is a warm and confident performance that enriches the film immeasurably.
Interestingly, Foster's Anna, who's more "progressive" on the surface, is also much more rigidly trapped by her notions of race, culture and upbringing than the sophisticated and worldly monarch. A widow still unable to accept the loss of her husband, Anna is never able to adapt to Asian manners or mores in the slightest. Nor can she understand that the world is not always a schoolroom."
Director Andy Tennant has outdone himself in bringing all this spectacle to the screen in ways that are both modern and agreeably old-fashioned. And bravo to the casting director who rounded up such beautiful children to play Anna's myriad students.
A fine performance is also turned in by Bai Ling as the king's latest bride who, tragically, cannot tear herself away from the man she left behind.
ANNA AND THE KING
Producers.................Lawrence Bender, Ed Elbert
Running time -- 140 minutes