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Widowed early with a young son (Tom Felton), Anna (Jodie Foster) leaves Victorian England to take up a post as tutor to the 58 children of King Mongkut of Siam (Chow Yun-Fat). The contrast in cultures creates conflict as this strong and intelligent woman refuses to abandon her own principles while respecting the King's enlightened view. Anna's impact becomes more apparent as time goes on, while the King's impact on her also grows, until there is something akin to a certain love between them. The relationships between Anna and the court also take on a life of their own, against the growing military threat to Siam. When betrayed, the King tries to save his family while his enemies aim to overthrow the throne; Anna is again instrumental in his life, and in altering the course of history.

"With the King and I resounding in our memory, it is intriguing to explore this exotic story again. Andy Tennant's version of the Anna Leonowens story goes farther and deeper than did the musical, wearing the mantle of serious storyteller - and wearing it a bit too self consciously. Elaborately produced and spectacularly designed, with a rich score, a large cast and a worthy intent, Anna and The King is a fabulous eyeful. But . . . there are a couple of buts. The script, while good with dialogue, lacks the cohesive and dynamic structure that would propel the story and engage us more keenly. Episodic and aimless at first, it only hums well in the final quarter, when everything else falls into place, too. The choice of Jodie Foster and Chow Yun-Fat is both inventive and effective, but there are downsides: Jodie Foster's clipped English through thinned lips seems mechanical and distances us, and works against fully credible characterisation. Chow Yun-Fat, magnificent in every other way, tends to lose some of his English lines of dialogue in an inscrutable accent. The other 'but' is a reservation about George Fenton's plush, orchestral score - maybe too lush. The richness, beautifully touched with wisps of the Orient, tends at times to elevate the mood into a fantasy world. This highlights the overall sense of being on a marvellous set that represents reality, instead of feeling that reality; our emotions are engaged far too late in the lengthy film, but even this late, the effect is haunting."
Andrew L. Urban

"Life is a mixture of fact and fantasy: Anna and the King is a visually breathtaking combination of the two. Roads are for journeys, not destinations and this ambitious production told in epic style, delves deep into issues beyond those canvassed in the classic Yul Brynner/Deborah Kerr musical version. The genre is drama; the storyline involves us in the culture, politics and blood-shed as well as cultural and feminist issues of an outspoken woman in a world where man is king and king is god. Glorious to look, we are engulfed in a world whose customs are as exotic as its traditions. The atmosphere is beautifully created we prickle with the heat in the bustle of the noisy markets as the elephants plod through the dust and discover the serenity of Shangri-La in the magnificent palatial settings. Here the pace is leisurely; the wives, concubines and offspring (all 68 of them) revel in subservience. Exquisite cinematography showcases a rich, ornate production design and Luciana Arrighi's splendid costumes while the big orchestrated score encompasses the grandeur of the setting and tale. But for me, the best part about Anna and the King is the inspired casting of Chow Yun-Fat, whose gentle charisma is mesmerising. His charm is hard to define, but he imbues a gentle giant with great complexities within. His chemistry with Jodie Foster is undeniable they are opposites in every way and it is easy to be drawn into their world. Foster is excellent as Anna, her performance slightly mannered especially with the delivery of her English accent. The film is a little long, and the script tries too hard to tell too much, but it is relatively easy to forgive the flaws. There are even some gems of wisdom to chew over: if love was a choice, who would choose such exquisite pain."
Louise Keller

"Formidable in their different ways, Jodie Foster and Chow Yun-Fat are certainly one of the more interesting (and unlikely) cinematic couples you could imagine. The main attraction of this non-musical remake of The King And I, is watching these two play off each other, though it's clearly Jodie Foster's film. Working carefully within Anna's brisk, repressed manner (and English accent), she floods the role with personal emotion: the character's high-minded idealism is also her own. For his part, Chow Yun-Fat's style is much cooler: in most scenes he keeps regally still, not wasting a gesture. For a Hollywood film, theirs is an unusual relationship. Since no actual romance is possible, the characters can only tease and admire each other, each taking pleasure in the other's intelligence, strength, and radically different worldview. Aside from this intellectual tango, played at best for gentle comedy, the film is nice enough but very slow and bland. There's a lot of conventional spectacle (palaces, crowd scenes, elephants) but the episodic plot never builds to anything that impressive or intense. It's hard to make a film of this kind without drawing on racist mythologies about the East and West; striving not to offend anyone, the script tries to rethink these premises but doesn't quite succeed. The dialogue is filled with painful anachronisms: in the middle of the Victorian era, Anna is a proto-feminist single parent who stands up for democracy, freedom, and the right of all cultures to be valued equally. Even so, the King's desire to modernise and Westernise his country is presented as unarguably a good thing - an appropriate moral for the age of globalisation.
Jake Wilson

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Our UK correspondent Nick Roddick REPORTS on an epic new vista on one of the world's most exotic love affairs.


CAST: Jodie Foster, Chow Yun-Fat, Bail Ling, Tom Felton, Syed Alwi, Randall Duk Kim, Lim Kay Siu, Melissa Campbell, Keith Chin

DIRECTOR: Andy Tennant

PRODUCER: Lawrence Bender, Ed Elbert

SCRIPT: Steve Meerson & Peter Krikes (based on diaries of Anna Leonowens)


EDITOR: Roger Blondell ACE

MUSIC: George Fenton


RUNNING TIME: 143 minutes


AUSTRALIAN RELEASE: December 16, 1999

VIDEO RELEASE: May 10, 2000


VIDEO DISTRIBUTOR: Fox Home Entertainment

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