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With: Chow Yun-Fat, Jodie Foster, Bai Ling, Geoffrey Palmer, Tom Felton, Keith Chin, Syed Alwi
Written by: Steve Meerson & Peter Krikes
Directed by: Andy Tennant
MPAA Rating: PG-13 for some intense violent sequences
Running Time: 148
Date: 12/06/1999

Anna and the King (1999)

3 1/2 Stars (out of 4)

Et Cetera...

By Jeffrey M. Anderson

To my knowledge this is the fourth movie version of the story of Anna Leonowens and the King of Siam. The first version was a non-musical, made in 1946 with Irene Dunne and Rex Harrison. Then came the famous 1956 musical version with Deborah Kerr and Yul Brenner, and this year's horrendous animated version of that same musical. But Andy Tennant's new film, starring Jodie Foster and Chow Yun-Fat, is the best of these; an exciting, romantic, colorful, and grown-up treatment of this story.

I found myself missing the musical numbers for only a moment before I got into this new version. I like musicals, but I prefer them on a smaller scale. Once they become epic and self-important (like The King and I) I get bored. So Anna and the King was a fresh drink of water for me. The story is much the same: Anna (Foster) comes to Siam to teach the King (Chow) and his 58 children the English ways. This time, though, we're in the middle of a political chess game: the Burmese have been attacking the remote edges of Siam, and the Siamese suspect that the English are behind the attacks. To further complicate matters, the King lies to Anna and tells her that the French are responsible.

The King and Anna are intellectual equals who spar with each other, each one-upping the other, and using their cultural differences as measuring devices. The key scene is a goodwill dinner in which the King gets the opportunity to show off what he's learned from Anna. Chow and Foster are amazingly good in their roles. Foster again proves her mettle with a superb English accent and reserved strength. And Chow proves that he's more than just an action star with his gobs of charisma and Cary Grant-like charm and versatility.

Director Andy Tennant, who surprised us last year with his hip re-telling of Cinderella (Ever After) one-ups himself and takes another classic story to an even higher, more intelligent level. I suspect that the movie is a bit too long and dense to appeal to a wide audience but those who do attempt it will find a small treasure in a large package.

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