One Cool Siamese Cat
Anna and the King
Review by Ross Anthony

The gold-tiled grand palace of Siam (Thailand's former name) shimmers with a story rich in culture and theatric recreation. It's a piece plucked from the diaries of a prim British woman about her exploits with a macho Siamese king during volatile times; played by a tough American woman and a Chinese action movie icon, respectively.

During the mid-1800's, an English widow and her son move from Bristish-colonized Bombay to Bangkok. Commissioned by the king of Siam to tutor his first son in English, Anna soon finds herself the school teacher of his 50+ offspring. Not just a tad self-righteous, Anna challenges the not just a tad arrogant male chauvinist top banana of the country. "She thinks herself equal not just to a man, but to a king." Of course, they fall in love.

A misty-eyed Anna relives a romantic moment, "He made me feel like ... " The curt Indian housekeeper interjects, "One of his twenty-six wives?" Not too proud to chime cute retorts, this version of "The King and I" never bursts into song. Its earlier lightness gives way to a sincere sense of impending doom with hanging bodies and blood spillage; romance is left as a subtle yet omnipresent magnetic attraction between two stubborn leads.

Jodie Foster, a fine gritty American actor, plays the part of Anna with rigid grace; but her less than proper British accent never lets us forget that she is, indeed, an American. Additionally, her character lacks a demonstratively brooding element. When the king slices her sympathetic encouragement with his terse line, "You are not qualified to criticize me about living!" he's referring to a side of Anna that this production fails to instill on us. Consequently, the power of such a potentially mighty assertion is limited only to the beam of intensity from under Chow's glossy and reddened eyes. Anna's practical optimism could have been richly complemented with an occasional emotionally-charged reaction to anything that remotely reminded her of her dead husband.

Chow is king of the glare. He reigns supreme in the facial expression and body language department. He can communicate a page worth of text in one word; but unfortunately the converse is also true. Chow does all he can to maintain stage mediocrity when delivering any dialogue longer than a sentence. His (non-Thai) accent sometimes leaving viewers asking each other, "What? Did you get that?" Still, he is charming and ultimately lovable as king.

Pictorially splendid, it's largely large, epic and expansive. This retelling commands the screen with such disciplined cinematography and direction that you'll almost forget the ethnicity mismatch. Even though there must have been some fine Thai actor that would have put even Yul to shame, and a proper British actress to counterbalance; the story is just so marvelous you'll end up having a good time anyway. It's a long one, pack a lunch.

"Goodnight ma'am, You've helped enough for one day."

  • Anna and the King. Copyright © 1999. Rated PG-13.
  • Starring Chow Yun-Fat and Jodie Foster.
  • Directed by Andy Tennant.
  • Written by Steve Meerson & Peter Krikes and Andy Tennant & Rick Parks based on the diaries of Anna Leonowens.
  • Produced by Lawrence Bender and Edward Elbertat at 20th Century Fox.


Copyright © 1999. Ross Anthony, currently based in Los Angeles, has scripted and shot documentaries, music videos, and shorts in 35 countries across North America, Europe, Africa and Asia. For more reviews visit:

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Last Modified: Saturday, 16-Sep-2006 08:21:28 PDT