Anna And The King
Rating -

  Drama/Romance (US); 1999; Rated PG-13; 140 Minutes

Jodie Foster: Anna
Chow Yun-Fat: King Mongut of Siam
Ling Bai: Tuptim
Tom Felton: Louis
Syed Alwi: The Kralahome
Randall Duk Kim: General Alak

Produced by Eric Angelson, Lawrence Bender, G. Mac Brown, Terrence Chang, Ed Elbert, Jon J. Jashni, Julie Kirkham and Wink Mordaunt; Directed by Andy Tennant; Screenwritten by Steve Meerson and Peter Krikes

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Written by DAVID KEYES

In partial defense of "Anna And The King," the new film from director Andy Tennant, I must at first start this review with some brief but deserving praise. Built upon imagery to accurately portray the story of a 19th-century teacher in Siam, here is a stunning spectacle filled with depth in the costume design, the sets, and cinematography. There's no question as to whether these technical beauties will find Oscar nominations next year, but lush locations and steep archways cannot begin to save the movie from the source material, which is so unbelievably bloated that staring at Don King's hair is likely to have a more plausible payoff.

It's disturbing to imagine why someone would want to even go near such rubbish, especially since it is responsible for a musical disaster, a movie musical travesty, and an animated film of almost unbearable proportions. Each adaptation stresses their own pretentious details of the original story, but none have been quite as nauseating as the movie musical, starring Yul Brynner as the King of Siam. The sight of a man walking around in silk with his chest bulging to show dominance over women makes me cringe; but somehow the picture retains a healthy following, as it is looked at as one of the more favorable movie musicals in the careers of Rogers & Hammerstein.

What does anyone see in this stuff, though? Is it possible that the tale of love between a king and teacher kindles fire between two opposites? Or does it grow on the pillar of acceptance, in which two people have to grow accustomed with each other's flaws? No one knows, and maybe no one should care; this is, after, a creepy relationship at its most absurd. It's about an English teacher who, more or less, is forced to care for the several children fathered by the king of Siam, who acts high and mighty in his long strides, and has his nose so high in the air that you can practically build birds' nests in the nostrils. Some have called the material "timeless," but if anyone even thought about bringing it into the modern perspective, then the king's ego would easily be exploited on talk shows, and his wives would either kill themselves, ask for a divorce, or convert to atheism.

Consider the subject matter a horror story in disguise of a love story, if you will. Now, nearly a half year after that profoundly ridiculous animated adaptation of "The King And I" comes this film, starring not one but two of the most known stars around right now. The fact that it's terrific to look at merely interferes with the outcome; we enjoy what the art direction and costumes have to offer, but the people who fill them look like they have been placed in a world etched in moral and logical desolation.

Simple but straightforward, the movie revolves around Anna, played by Jodie Foster, who is being shipped off to the small little country of Siam (now Malaysia) with her son to teach the children of their king. Naturally, things become quite complex when we witness Anna, headstrong and fetching, refuse to bow to the king as others are forced to do in his presence. There are gasps. There is a look of amazement that graces faces. Soon Anna is more than just a challenge to his royalty--she is an asset. Political issues, country wars and personal relationships guide the film's 140-minute running time, as Anna helps the king make decisions needing a woman's perspective, and helps soften his rather stern persona. There is a scene in the later half in which both share a dance, smiling at one another as if they were lovers who met for the first time in their prom costumes. But how can a stern king like this even feel for a teacher like her, and how can she consider falling for a man who impregnates women faster than he can marry them?

And speaking of children, let's take a head count, shall we? The class Anna is forced to teach consists of 58 heads, and it is learned later on that the king is expecting at least another dozen. What do these two numbers add up to? A moment of confusion, really--if the king has impregnated women at this rate, then how is it that he is clothed and standing during the entire movie? In the modern world, rabbits would likely look on in amazement at the man behind these pregnancies.

"Anna And The King" is like staring at some sort of painting warped by water damage; the imagery is magnificent, but the story is so pompous and inconceivable that it doesn't even have the decency to meet us halfway. To the pictures smallest credit, however, I applaud the effort from the stars Foster and Chow Yun-Fat, who are likable screen performers that at least try to make the material work. But they don't belong in this movie, period. Foster is one of the most versatile women in Hollywood, and Yun-Fat, who is sort of like the rich man's version of Jackie Chan, is more suitable in the pictures he has grown accustomed to making. They both deserve material that doesn't send us off screaming in frustration.

1999, David Keyes, Please e-mail the author here if the above review contains any spelling or grammar mistakes.
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