Anna and the King
Director: Andy Tennant
Stars: Chow Yun-Fat, Jodie Foster, Bai Ling
Another retelling of the tale of Anna Leonowens, who traveled to Siam in the 1860's to teach King Mongkut's children and eventually ended up teaching the King himself a thing or two. This story (based on real events) has been retold many times, but is probably most famous as the musical The King and I. This may be why I was initially very hesitant about seeing Anna and the King. The thought of seeing Chow Yun-Fat (who, despite his huge range as an actor, will forever be one of my favorite "tough guys") doing cheesy melodramatic romantic costume drama made me cringe. Thankfully, Anna and the King manages to steer past the potholes which usually derail these kinds of films.
Why does it manage to do so? It's hard to say, but certainly a lot of credit goes to the stars. Jodie Foster (as Anna) and Chow (as Mongkut) have a great on-screen chemistry together that makes their developing relationship believable. Director Andy Tennant also allows both stars breathing room to develop their characters, but at the same time doesn't allow the runaway overacting that usually occurs in these films. Though both Foster and Chow have their share of speeches, neither let their characters run into the realm of melodrama. The script -- while not as tight as could be -- thankfully stays on track for most of the film. It limits its focus to Anna, Mongkut and a few other characters, such as Anna and Mongkut's respective sons, and a concubine (played by Bai Ling) whose attachment to an old lover has some disastrous consequences. There are a few throwaway characters and subplots, but they don't drag down the movie with them.
There are a few faults in the film, though. The movie runs about two and a half hours. While (as I stated before) most of the characters are handled well, there still seems to be a bit of fluff in the movie that could have been trimmed. The film's main subplot (about a rising threat from Burma) is fairly transparent and is actually resolved too quickly for such a major event. Also, as with many films based on actual events, things have been over-glamorized a bit. While Thailand is a beautiful country, I doubt people (of any kind) paid so much attention to personal hygene during the 1860's. This may seem a bit picky, but I always like some kind of historical accuracy in films that warrant it, but Anna doesn't deliver all the way in this respect (this was a big problem I had with Ridley Scott's Gladiator, but that's another story).
It's kind of a shame that Anna didn't do well at the US box office (it did take in about $70 million, but that wasn't enough to cover its high cost and eventually led to the dismissal of Fox chairman Bill Mechanic). It has Chow Yun-Fat's strongest role in a US film to date (worlds above his near-mute hitman in The Replacement Killers) as well as great set designs and costumes, along with a nice mix of action, drama and romance.
RATING: 7Click here to view the trailer for this movie (clip courtesy of JoBlo's Trailers)
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