Weekly Wire
Austin Chronicle Anna and the King

By Marjorie Baumgarten

JANUARY 10, 2000: 

D: Andy Tennant; with Jodie Foster, Chow Yun-Fat, Bai Ling, Tom Felton, Syed Alwi, Randall Duk Kim, Keith Chin. (PG-13, 147 min.)

Anna and the King might be a perfectly fine film if only it were possible to quiet the nagging inner voice that keeps asking, "Why?" Why remake The King and I without the Rodgers and Hammerstein music and Yul Brenner in the role he branded for life? This new rendition gives more emphasis to Siam's internecine political rumblings and the East-West social conflict, and also provides the great Chinese actor Chow Yun-Fat with a starring role in a major American vehicle. But as Anna and the King unfolds, one is struck not so much by what has been added in this new production as by what is missing. The remake is not necessarily inferior; it's simply superfluous. The film is beautiful to look at, the camerawork of Caleb Deschanel (The Black Stallion, The Natural, The Right Stuff) includes sweeping vistas and lovely, moving shots. Director Andy Tennant proved his mettle as a historical helmsman with his last film, Drew Barrymore's Ever After. His earlier film, Fools Rush In with Matthew Perry and Salma Hayek demonstrated his competence with cultural-collision love stories. Foster, presumably, was drawn to this portrayal of self-employed Victorian widow Anna Leonowens, schoolmarm to 58 royal Siamese offspring, as an opportunity to bring to life another independent-minded female character. Chow, understandably, might welcome the opportunity to play a stately role in an American movie that allows him to showcase dramatic skills beyond the action chops that established his reputation. Everyone seems to have a logical reason for undertaking this project, but nowhere is there an overriding sense that this is a movie that must be made. Thus, at nearly two and a half hours in running length, Anna and the King often drags as it dwells on its themes without adding anything new to the mix. In such recent films as Sommersby and Maverick, Foster has shown a penchant for donning accents and jumping through hoop(skirts), and she always seems a bit too modern in her mannerisms and speaking manner to pull off these historical roles believably. Nevertheless, Anna and the King is colorful and a passable drama, one that highlights the difficulties of cross-cultural love affairs and the exoticism of the third world.

2 Stars

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