My theory is that every generation needs their own version of the film The King and I. Namely a new king. My grandparents had Rex Harrison, my parents had Yul Brynner, and now my generation has Chow Yun-Fat. Hold the phone right there, mister. Chow Yun-Fat... isn't he that the guy from those crazy, violent, Hong Kong action movies by John Woo? Fear not, kind reader, for Chow Yun-Fat commands the role made famous for all these years and gives both Harrison and Brynner a run for their money.
When I watch Chow Yun-Fat, one person comes to mind: Steve McQueen. Watching Chow move across the screen and establish his presence strongly echoes the attitude and the acting style of McQueen. Upon the viewer's first impression of the king of Siam, Chow is the complete image of royalty in Eastern Asia. His curt, rigid mannerisms and omnipotent status as king are delivered strongly with simple, direct looks. This attitude clearly draws the line between the customs of the East and West. As the film progresses, I watched Chow evolve from this distant, commanding presence to an emotional, tangible creature that, with an honest glance, can covey passionate love for his family and for his country.
The chemistry between the King and Anna is made concrete by Jodie Foster's amazing acting abilities. She encompasses fully the role of a Victorian lady born and bred in England. Her staunch avocation towards defending her actions and securing proper respect from the King is fueled by the directness of Foster's character. Foster projects a silent understanding of the King's actions towards his family and strives to communicate with him on an equal level. She brings to the role a hidden sorrow that is shared by the King, and this sorrow lets them draw closer to one another. Her reservations towards temptation are laid bare and Chow supplements the situations with his own reservations towards love for another person.
The main issue with films that deal with an epic theme -- one that requires grandiose set constructions, hundreds upon thousands of extras, an amazing selection of costumes and jewelry, and exotic locations -- is that it can all fail with the wrong director behind the camera. With all the amazing acting achieved by Chow Yun-Fat and Jodie Foster and complex character development they pull off so well in the film, Anna and the King has the wrong director for the job. This is where my main criticism for the film lies.
Andy Tennant, director of such hits as Fools Rush In(that crazy Salma Hayek comedy) and Ever After, must have gotten his directing credentials out of a Crackerjack box. The emotional impact of many intimate scenes between Chow and Foster were lacking one thing: Intimacy. Tennant never draws close to the character's faces and I felt distant and removed from most of the scenes. The acting of Chow and Foster held strong conviction for me, but the inclusion of these images would have left a greater impression. Tennant also lets the actors move within the scene without letting the camera move with them, but this only instills greater remoteness towards the audience.
Another main fault is the film's script. I'm not to sure that this subject matter should have been handed over to two guys, Steve Meerson and Peter Krikes, whose last film was Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home. I could just see the first treatments of the film: "Kirk to Spock, put the phasers on stun because the King of Siam needs our help to rid his country of imperialist forces uniting against him in a deadly trade war". "Dammnit Jim, I'm a doctor not a political advisor!"
This "political struggle" of Chow's King Mongkut between British imperialism and the internal power struggles of his kingdom adds only a distraction to the film's main focus of the unrequited love people can hold for one another. When it attempts to give partial validation to the love of the King and Anna by their uniting to overcome this "power struggle," the film becomes trite and reaches resolution without fanfare or emotional involvement from the audience.
Overall, the film is commendable for the acting of Chow and Foster and the impressive set and costume designs of the film. Anna and the King should also provide Chow Yun-Fat the ability to finally move into a stronger category of American actors and achieve the fame he has held for so long in the East. Would that it did more for the audience.
Hail to the King.
Run time: 148 mins
In Theaters: Friday 17th December 1999
Distributed by: 20th Century Fox
Production compaines: Fox 2000 Pictures
Contactmusic.com: 3 / 5
Rotten Tomatoes: 51%
Fresh: 50 Rotten: 49
IMDB: 6.7 / 10
Director: Andy Tennant
Starring: Jodie Foster as Anna Leonowens, Chow Yun-Fat as König Mongkut, Bai Ling as Tuptim, Tom Felton as Louis Leonowens, Syed Alwi as The Kralahome, Prime Minister, Randall Duk Kim as General Alak, Kay Siu Lim as Prince Chowfa, King Mongkut's Brother, Melissa Campbell as Princess Fa-Ying, Keith Chin as Prince Chulalongkorn, Mano Maniam as Moonshee, Leonowens' Indian Servant, Shanthini Venugopal as Beebe, Leonowens' Indian Servant, Deanna Yusoff as Lady Thiang, Head Wife, Ann Firbank as Lady Bradley, Geoffrey Palmer as Lord John Bradley