Anna and the King Reviewby Scott Hunt (hunt AT inetdirect DOT net)
March 19th, 2000
Review: Anna and the King (1999)
Review by Scott Hunt. Visit me at Movie Hunt
Cast: Chow Yun-Fat, Jodie Foster, Bai Ling
Director: Andy Tennant
Writer: Anna Leonowens, Steve Meerson, Peter Krikes
Rating: Good Shot (3 out of 4 stars)
Anna and the King strides onto the screen in full regalia, wearing a brilliant suit of sumptuous landscapes, deep, vibrant colors and an epic storyline. It's true beauty comes from it's subtle ruminations on the politics of power, whether it's between governments, or the interplay between a man and a woman.
Anna (Jodie Foster) is a widowed British schoolteacher with a touch of wanderlust trying to grasp her quicksilver feelings concerning the recent death of her husband. With son in tow, she takes the employ of King Mongkut (Chow Yun-Fat) to tutor his son in the English language. Mongkut sees the strength of the British and correctly surmises that his country's future lies in opening itself up to the ways of the western world. Anna function is to help provide that link.
The core of the film, of course, deals with the blossoming love between Anna and Mongkut as it attempts to germinate in the unfriendly soil of a shifting political climate. Foster plays Anna with equal parts clenched jaw and wide-eyed wonder. She is assertive, yet, respectful of the king as she initially tries to impose her western sensibilities upon him. It is one of Foster's strongest performances since Silence of the Lambs in a role she could not have played earlier in her career. She brings a mature self- awareness and determination that might not have come across from a younger Foster. It's a joy to watch her cagily bargain for her own measure of influence within the realm of Mongkut's monarchy. When she makes her entrance into a politically charged banquet mid-film, she exudes a hypnotic beauty that is deepened by her textured performance.
Chow-Yun Fat's King Mongkut is every measure of Foster's Anna, perhaps even more so. This is the Chow Yun-Fat that Hong Kong cinema has been in love with for nearly twenty years. He is imposing, yet vulnerable, playful, but stern. It is an impressively assured and nuanced performance.
Precious time is stolen from the movie's 155 minutes running time by an unengaging subplot involving one the King's concubines (Bai Ling) and her love of a commoner. It strikes with the subtlety of Siam's fabled white elephant as it stomps through the leisurely paced story.
Some may be put off by the action filled climax of the movie. Although a bit inconsistent in tone from the rest of the film, it fits within the established subplot of a perceived siege by neighboring Burma, a country backed by the British.
Anna and the King transcends being a predictable, traditional love story by avoiding mawkishness. It shows a seduction of intelligence. Ever mindful of each other's positions, Anna and King Mongkut negotiate a maze of social customs, conflicting world views and lost loved ones to connect on a level that ultimately proves deeply satisfying, if not achingly bittersweet.
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