on January 27, 2007
I am originally from Montreal, Canada, where Anna Leonowens ended her days and is buried in Mount Royal cemetery, where most of my relatives now rest in peace. I have been familiar with her story since childhood (I am now in my 50's) and I love both this film and Margaret Langdon's book.
However, I have read very few reviews that point out just how much, unlike the previous other three versions - two of them "musicals" - available on DVD, this film version is at first unsympathetic, if not downright critical, of Anna's Imperialist and Colonial attitudes and opinions.
These were taken for granted and apparently supported, never questioned, by Rodgers and Hammerstein in their musical version - which, because of this, now appears somewhat "outdated". Since, in the musical, the composer and lyricist were not sensitive enough to the social and political implications of their approach, Anna's story is, to this day, still banned in Thailand...
In this version, King Mongkut fares a lot better and is treated with greater respect. A highly cultured and civilized monarch, he is understandably at a loss when "Hurricane Anna" first arrives at court! His is a far cry from Yul Brynner's broad interpretation, where he was portrayed as a "barbarian"; where Anna could do no wrong! This is a fresh, different, multicultural approach to a well-know, well-loved tale.
In this age of the Global Village and multiculturalism, all cultures deserve greater respect than they once received in the 19th century. Could this be one of the main points of this "remake": to set the record straight and hopefully correct the situation?
In spite of its flaws (well represented in other reviews), this film is well worth watching many times. Who knows? It might help us uncover and correct our own negative views as we relate to other peoples and cultures...
This film was obviously intended to be a timeless masterpiece. Although it fails in this respect, it remains a worthwhile historical film. The directing is very good, but for some awkwardly timed shots. The writing ranges from good to satisfactory. You cannot establish the apathy of a character in one scene and then expect us for feel for his personal sentimentality in the next. The extravagance of the kingdom we see is both grotesque in its excess and beautiful in its elegance. The film does not pretend that many are not suffering so that others may live in such luxury, although it spends much time empathizing with the one who suppresses them. Although it is based on history and the strong influence of a well-intended woman on a society, ultimately this is an ego-based romance story; a British woman who finds herself taken with the bold (but socially disciplined) absolutist of a luxurious exotic kingdom, who has 25 wives, not counting his concubines. I feel that the writers lacked focus on what they wanted to communicate with the film.
On a side note, Jodie Foster delivers a solid performance like always. All the acting is good in this one, even by the child actors.
on January 31, 2004
After losing her husband in the jungle of India, Anna Leonowens embarks in a journey that will take her to Siam, where she will tutor the oldest son of King Mongkut. Her son, Louis, and two Hindu servants accompany her in this new endeavor. As soon as Anna sets foot in Bangkok, the difference between cultures surges as a predominant element that will remain present throughout the story. Even though the start is rocky, with Anna being called "Sir" for misogynist reasons and not being given the house she was promised but accommodation in the palace instead, the king discovers quickly the value of this woman that acts very different from what he is used to. That is why he decides that instead of tutoring his oldest son, she will be in charge of teaching all of his children...all 58 of them!
The movie evolves around three clear themes. First, the clash of cultures, which is enlightening and entertaining and as the movie evolves so does the acceptance and admiration each of the characters show for the positive points of the other's culture. Second, the relationship between Anna and the king, which starts as annoyance, moves to respect and continues developing from there. Third, the political atmosphere, which is characterized by attacks to Siamese people by Burmese armies, suspected to be supported by no other than the British Empire (the events unfold in 1862).
Although the movie is rather long, the events unfold at a pace that keeps the viewer interested at all times. The music fits the mood of the action perfectly well, and in the proper scenes it is so uplifting that it steals the attention of the viewer. Jodie Foster delivers a well-rounded role, but in my opinion the performance of Chow Yun-Fat is at a higher level. Finally, the scenery and the palaces where the movie develops are absolutely amazing.
Overall this is a highly enjoyable movie that will leave you thinking for a while about how every culture has its positive aspects and how, with a little patience, everyone can learn to appreciate this.
on December 5, 2003
It didn't surprise me when this first came out that it didn't get very good reviews. I almost didn't see it myself, but once I did see it, I just kept coming back. It's a glorious film.
The film itself is done with tremendous diligence -- the costumes, the scenery are fabulous. More importantly, the script is good -- the story itself is a good story. Some films have a really deepening story so that the characters and events are well understood and interconnected, and this is one of those. But the language is also beautiful. It's full of good lines. I think above all, it is Chow Yun-Fat's acting which makes the film -- his humanity, his depth and his nobility. I'm also astounded by the acting of the woman who plays Tuptim... And Jodie Foster fully holds up her end as well.
However, I can see many reasons why people would avoid it. The most important of these is that it's banned in Thailand. The Thai people regard it as an very Westernized take on the sotry. King Mongkut was in fact an old man at the time this happened, and not the charming young Chow Yun-Fat. There's apparently no evidence from King Mongkut's private diaries that he had anything like the feelings expressed in this film. I can easily believe this is true. The film is fiction. At the very least, I doubt very much that Mongkut's heroic stand on the bridge happened like it's portrayed in the film.
But I also can't buy that the film comes across as putting down Eastern culture. Unlike in "The King and I" (of which it is by no means a simple remake) where Anna clearly has the upper hand, this is an even match. She has as much to learn from him as he from her. England has as much to learn from Thailand as the other way around.
My mother didn't like it, because although she's the sort of person which appreciates a really good story, she can't stand graphic beheadings. And others of my friends don't like it, because although the like a good battle scene, they can't stand little girls dying in their father's arms -- too mushy. I take it all gladly.
But the ultimate compliment comes from my 12-year-old son who has seen it about twice a month since it came out. Every couple weeks he'll say, "I miss it. I have to watch Anna and the King".
on August 16, 2003
Writing coach Jerry Cleaver writes that a good story is one that gets to you, one where you identify with the main character, feel what they feel. Well, this story sure got to me. Anna's character was written so that while I couldn't identify with her at the beginning, I certainly could at the end. Unfortunately, I understand the frustrations of a forbidden love only too well.
In spite of the unbearable tension, I personally am glad they never kissed. But even after replaying it several times, it's hard to figure out, though, when the turning point was in their relationship. The King indirectly referred to Anna as "friend" during the banquet, so I knew Anna had his respect by then, but when did it become more? Hm.
This is a movie with incredible sets and an incredible setting, with wonderful costuming, and the CGI work is jawdropping! In the director's commentary, Andy Tennant describes a scene with Chow Yun Fat ("Fattie") and Jodie Foster, noting they weren't even in the same room together because each cutaway shot was done on different days! What a shock, too, to learn that the rocket scene was totally computerized! I love learning about the filmmaking process!
Former child actor Jodie Foster has earned my respect. Tenant said they wanted Kate Winslet to play Anna at first, but there's obviously nothing a voice coach and professionalism can't accomplish with a lot of hard work. That goes for all the actors, none of whom spoke their native languages.
Chow Yun-Fat, being Chinese, spoke neither Thai nor much English, but had to learn both for this movie. To my mind, that's genius. I understand this was his first and thusfar only dramatic role (he's known in his country for comedies and martial arts films). If more non-comedic and non-martial arts roles for Asians ever become available, this should open big doors for him. He's a fantastic leading man -- I thought he was gorgeous, and I'll take him over ANY European-American actor any day.
Bai Ling, who plays the doomed concubine Tuptim, gives just a powerful, powerful performance, and has to perform throughout the movie without any hair.
I have to give director Andy Tennant his props, too. This beautiful film has me interested in his other films. I want to see if he does this kind of work on a regular basis or is this just a wonderful fluke.
The children were just adorable, especially the little one who was the King's favorite. Difficult to watch her die, but such was life back then. There are things even a king can't control.
I couldn't stand The King and I; I found it terribly racist, like a lot of what came out of Hollywood back then. I was hoping for a more intelligently done movie that more realistically depicted what Thailand was like back then, and I personally am grateful to see a king that doesn't look like Mr. Clean, and doesn't kill himself just because he lost a white woman.
I highly recommend watching the outtakes and watching the movie with the director's commentary. It really makes the story make sense after you know some background.
This is one I'd buy in a heartbeat. I understand this didn't do well at the box office, but I'd relish the chance to see it for the first time on the big screen.
It is a shame that gorgeous, poignant, sweeping epics such as Anna and the King rarely succeed commercially, as they have so much more to offer on so many different levels than your typical box office smash hits. I, of course, will watch anything starring Jodie Foster, and I thought she was brilliant in her portrayal of the controversial nineteenth-century tutor to the children of the king of Siam. I should say that I am judging this movie solely on its own merits as a motion picture; I know nothing about Siamese history and culture, and I have never seen this story as portrayed in The King and I. I do not know if the Siam we see here, most of which was actually filmed on a massive seven-acre lot far from Southeast Asia, provides a true picture of the land in question, but what we see here is undeniably beautiful. The filmmakers obviously went to great lengths, preparing everything down to the last detail, to provide a setting for this powerful drama that impacts the viewer quite forcefully and takes him/her to a place he/she has almost surely never gone before. Not only is the landscape captivating, but the palace, monuments, buildings, and religious icons depicted here are exotically stunning, offering even the most Westernized moviegoer the opportunity of seeing and experiencing an entrancing part of Far Eastern culture. Traditions and actions that seem immoral and unacceptable are at least made understandable, and that is the fulcrum upon which east and west can meet and work together.
This is a special love story, one that is enfolded within a complex vista of much larger, sweeping human dramas. Some might say the romance falls short, but I believe that the type of romance explored in this movie represents perhaps the toughest form of true love, and what it lacks in demonstrable passion, it more than makes up for in depth of feeling. English schoolteacher Anna Leonowens (Jodie Foster) has come to Siam (via India) to instruct the king's oldest son in English, but quite clearly she is not the type of schoolteacher the king expected, as she refuses to fully embrace the protocols of Siam. She is committed to showing King Mongkut (Yun-Fat Chow) the respect he deserves, but she stands in his presence, seeks him out rather than waiting to be summoned, and expresses her feelings and beliefs in a manner that would never be tolerated by a Siamese subject of the king. The king obviously admires her spirit, asking her to teach not only his eldest son but all fifty-eight of his children, one of his wives, and one of his concubines. The children do not respond to her very well at first, a fact which is not helped in the short run by her own son's spirit of independence, but her compassionate disciplinary ways soon make of her the kind of teacher Mongkut wants for his children. In time, she and King Mongkut develop a fairly close yet perfectly innocent relationship of their own, sharing a mutual bond of love for the children. Anna is never afraid to tell Mongkut what she thinks or to get involved in situations her conscience will not allow her to ignore, and a mutual understanding and respect is forged among these paragons of culturally different virtues. All the while, revolution is stirring in the land, and the king's throne and life itself are placed in great danger, yet Anna's presence and fierce spirit of goodness emerge as a secret weapon that stands to change the very fabric of Siam itself.
As wonderful and Oscar-worthy as Jodie Foster's performance is here, Chow-Yun Fat's is even better. King Mongkut is a complicated man, one who cares deeply about his family and his country, seeking to connect with the western world in order to promote the betterment of both. He does a magical job of balancing the burdens of a difficult kingship with those of a loving father and a very human man. Tom Felton is also very good as Anna's son Louis, although it took me a few minutes to see him in this new light once I realized I was watching Harry Potter's nemesis Draco Malfoy playing this role, and the children of King Mongkut are all portrayed masterfully by the whole cast of child actors and actresses. How this movie did not sweep the Academy Awards for 1999 is a mystery to me.
Anna and the King is a movie you can easily and happily immerse yourself in, journeying to a very different world and fully investing yourself emotionally in the drama focused on Anna and King Mongkut. The behind the scenes features afford a way of appreciating even more fully the job everyone associated with this motion picture did, and the deleted scenes offer a most interesting extended opening and ending to a wondrous picture stretched across two and a half hours in its finished form. If you have a heart, Anna and the King will speak to it, and you will feel touched in a very special way after watching it.
on July 4, 2003
I missed this movie when it was released in the theater and only bought the DVD after seeing the last few moments of the movie when it aired on television in our area recently.
At a running time of two and a half hours I thought it was perfect. There was never a point during the movie where I felt the need to look at my watch.
One of the many things that made this movie so easy to watch was Jodie Foster and Chow Yun-Fat. I had recently read some of the critics reviews at the time this picture was originally released and one of the comments was that there was no chemistry. I would disagree strongly because some of the best moments of the movie are when they are on the screen together.
The cinematography is another reason this was such a good movie. The scope of many of the scenes with the sweeping vistas, color and pagentry makes me wish that I had seen it in the theater because it really is something to see.
But none of this would have worked as it did if it had not been for George Fenton's score to tie everything together.
As for the extra's, once you've watched this movie, watch it again with director Andy Tennant's commentary. It's always interesting to hear about things from the director's point of view and the experience they had filming the movie.
There is also director's commentary for the deleted and extended scenes. I would highly recommend using this option because Mr. Tennant explains why he made the decisions he did about these particular scenes.
The last thing I would recommend is to view this movie in widescreen format.
Whatever creative links truly exist we think of the 1999 film "Anna the King" as a dramatic version of "The King and I," which was a musical version of the 1946 film "Anna and the King of Siam," which was inspired by the diaries of Anna Leonowens. Now, it turns out that Anna Leonowens, who was hired to tutor the children of the king of Siam in 1862, greatly embellished her adventures in her celebrated book. She was neither a governess nor an advisor to the king, her late husband was a desk clerk and not a military officer, and she made up the lurid stories about the king throwing wives into dugeons and the public torture and burning of a consort and the monk she loved. Of course, history rarely matters to Hollywood and in this case the idea of a romance between Anna and the King overwhelms everything else.
The real King Mongkut of Siam was about 60 years old when Anna arrived to teach English to the king's children (you can easily find photographs of him on the web), which would be the final blow to thoughts of romance if all those wives, concubines, public executions, and pagan believes did not turn off any widowed Englishwoman employed in his palace. But despite its flaws "The King and I" is a pretty good romance; the scene where Yul Brynner dances with Deborah Kerr is one the sexiest scenes in Hollywood history (watch how they look at each other after the dance finishes) and there is no profit to be made in trying to convince a modern audience that this story is not a romance. We might have a more accurate view of George Custer at the Little Bighorn, but we cling to our romanticized vision of "Anna and the King."
This is a gorgeous film. The story may well distort the cultural history of what is now Thailand, but the film can certainly inspire you to want to visit. Yun-Fat Chow plays the King as a figure refined enough to tempt Anna, who is played by Jodie Foster. Ironically enough, in this version of the tale, which seeks to present King Mongkut as more cultured and civilized than ever, Anna's prejudicial views stand out more than ever. Every time she stands up to the king, ask yourself if she would really do the same thing to Queen Victoria. She might be a woman but she is an Englishwoman, not to mention a Christian, and that pretty much settles everything.
Ultimately, two things distinguish this version of the story. The first is that Anna undergoes much more of a transformation that the King this time around. The person who benefits most from her presence is Prince Chulalongkorn (Keith Chin), heir to the thrown, and most of that education is implied rather than shown. In fact, there are several scenes that make it clear the King is smarter than Anna; his problem is more than of pride than anything else. In the major subplot involving Tuptim (Ling Bai), Anna only makes things worse from start to finish. The second is that the political problems of Mongkut and his kingdom are considerably more serious. Troops from Burma are crossing the border and killing Siamese. This raises the possibility of war, but since Burma is under the protection of the British, the stakes are pretty high. The end result is that more than ever before, Anna gets to be the salvation of the King and the nation of Siam (i.e., Thailand banned "The King and I" and they will ban this film too).
"Anna and the King" is a beautiful film, but does not touch the heart the way a true romance should. In fact, the heart of the film is in the affection of the king for his youngest daughter, Princess Fa-Ying (Melissa Campbell), who truly touches him in a way no other person does. Director Andy Tennant captured magic with "Ever After," but this film ends up missing the mark. It has Anna, the King, and even dancing, but this time around it is not enough.
on March 7, 2003
A lot of flack was heaped on the release of this film in comparison to Rodgers & Hammerstein's musical "The King & I" which is, itself a remake of "Anna & The King of Siam" a 30's film with Rex Harrison and Irene Dunne. I should like to point out that such comparisons are foolish. Though all three movies deal with the subject of an English school teacher coming to Siam to educate the King's children, each has dealt with the topic on it own terms and merit.
In this version Jodie Foster is Anna Leonowens, the head strong British colonialist who sees into the heart of a king and grows perhaps too fond of him for her own stalwart romantic sensibilities.
FOX STUDIOS has done a beautiful job of capturing all the color, glamor and spectacle of Andy Tennant's beautiful film. Colors on this DVD are robust, rich and vibrant. Clarity is remarkable. Though some pixelization and edge enhancement are present they never really intrude on the overall visual experience. The 5.1 sound mix is incredibly lively and well balanced with a natural sounding fidelity that is most complimentary to the film. Extras include a documentary and several featurettes (which are just edited down versions of the documentary - go figure) as well as the film's theatrical trailer and an audio commentary. FINAL WORD: Highly recommended and well worth the money.
on January 27, 2003
A widescreen print of this film has been available here for more than a year so the timing of this release is strange - perhaps USAmericans are more tolerant of TV prints than we Aussies are. The film itself is also strange. You can see why Fox bought it - a familiar but also exotic story; the world's most bankable star (CHOU Yunfat, the emperor of Hernggong) with the very marketable Jodie Foster as insurance; & a cheap Malaysian location to build a theme park of a set - but in all this clever dealmaking, noone seems to have ever bothered to decide who this Anna was supposed to be. Master Chou - a contemporary action specialist; who never did fancy dress or martial arts before Hollywood coopted him, which makes his historical martial artist casting here look very odd indeed - plays it as a romantic fantasy & looks more like a Hakkayuan Yul Brynner than the historical King Mongkut. Ms Foster - a thoughtful actor & one of my personal favorites - isn't generally cast as a romantic lead; & here seems to be trying to create a historically accurate portrayal of the woman who called herself Anna Leonowens. The mixture of styles doesn't gel; & with director Andy Tennant wanting a foot in every camp - first encouraging Foster's carefully thought out stuffiness; then filling the screen with elephant shots you last saw in old Disney True-Life Adventures - the result is a stylish mess. At one point in the commentary, Tennant compliments Foster on never appearing to sweat, even though the story is set in the tropics & she's wearing historical clothing that must have made the real Anna sweat like a pig. Clearly he didn't want a realistic take on Anna's controversial Siamese sojourn; so why did he indulge Foster's awkward realism elsewhere? Who knows? That said: in its resolutely old-fashioned story-telling, Anna plays better on a wide-screen DVD print than in the cinema; & in some striking parts rather than in the rather rambling whole. It won't sweep you away either as a romantic epic or as intimate study of a relationship that would never be; but a lot worse films have been a lot more successful.