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From the January 2000
Film Review

Film Review Hotline

4 Stars
Shall we dance? Chow Yun-Fat, Jodie Foster
Getting to know you… again.
STARS: Jodie Foster, Chow Yun Fat, Mano Maniam, Geoffrey Palmer, Bai Ling, Deanna Yusoff, Melissa Campbell
DIRECTOR: Andy Tennant
SCREENPLAY: Peter Krikes, Steve Meerson
CERTIFICATE: 12 TBCDISTRIBUTOR and Picture copyright: 20th Century Fox
OPENING DATE (UK): December 17

As we reach the new millennium, it seems this obsession to remake the past will never end. The story of Anna Leonowens and her relationship with the King of Siam has already been filmed a number of times; as a romance (with Rex Harrison as the King), as an animated feature, and, most famously, as a musical. Ironically, the diaries of English teacher Anna Leonowens have long been discredited as a fictional account of her time in Siam, diluting the ‘based on a true story’ claim of this new version of the tale. Sorry to be a party pooper, but that’s the truth.

It’s of little matter, for this modern fable still makes for excellent drama, and director Andy Tennant (Ever After) captures the beauty of Thailand perfectly – even if it’s actually Malaysia we’re seeing. Stunningly impressive sets (reputedly some of the largest ever built) help to convey the wealth and majesty of King Mongkut (Chow Yun Fat, in a departure from the action flicks he’s famous for in the West). Chow Yun’s is a much warmer and more sensitive portrayal than Yul Bryner’s definitive interpretation, effectively capturing the troubled mind of a King facing not only civil unrest and betrayal, but also fears of a war with his country’s Burmese neighbours.

It is Mongkut’s desire for diplomatic links with the British Empire that lead him to hire an English teacher for his 68 children and a couple of his favoured wives. When Mrs Anna Leonowens (Foster, in her first feature film for nearly three years) she brings with her a cheeky son, a widow’s shawl and the fiery indignation of 400 years of British colonialism. I suppose we’re supposed to find her forthrightness and, at times, plain rudeness endearing, but it does seem to further perpetuate the myth that one woman could single-handedly change the face of East Asia with a few English lessons and a stiff upper lip.

It’s easy to be flippant with such a familiar story but, in honesty, Anna and the King is a magnificent epic, with appealing support from a legion of child actors, breathtaking scenery and a fairly tight plot. If only it had a few nice, catchy songs…

Jim Sangster

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Reviews © Visual Imagination Ltd 1999. Not for reproduction.
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Hold Back the Night • Dec 17
Cinema Paradiso • Dec 17
The Limey • Dec 10