The epic and timeless tale of The King and I flopped in theaters in 1999 in the form of Anna and the King, but it is actually a well-done success that just hasn't been seen by widespread audiences.
Jodie Foster and Chow Yun-Fat star as the two title characters respectively, Foster being a very opinionated and vocal British schoolteacher who has been hired by the King of Siam to teach his children the ways of the West, since he realizes that to be able to control the country, the ruler must be aware of the powerful empires around them. As time goes on the two form an unlikely relationship, but the King has other worries as well; Burmese soldiers are carrying out death raids, which will possibly force him into war with them, as well as the British Empire.
Anna and the King has beautiful scenery, a splendid cast, and a script that is just good enough to support those who have to perform it. Chow is primarily an action star, but he does a stunningly wonderful job as King Mongkut, combining his usual onscreen bravery with a compassion and quality that ranks him up there with the best of actors. Foster also does a pretty good job, even if her character can be annoying at times (although she does pay for it quite dearly at one point).
More than anything else, Anna and the King succeeds at showing how two very different cultures are really not that different, and how various people react to the changes going on. The only thing that may hurt the film is that the portrayal of Anna is a little flawless; while she does technically look down on some of the practices of the King, she really isn't condescending at all. Even the most accepting of travelers tend to look down on the other cultures they go to, but Anna seems a little impervious to that human flaw.
There are a few slow parts here and there and the movie is a little long, but for the most part Anna and the King is a surprisingly well-made movie that deserves more recongition than it received.
Review by Erik Samdahl unless otherwise indicated.
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