Last Updated: 1/2/00

Bams' review of
"Anna And The King"


Anna And The King (1999)
Rated PG-13; running time 140 minutes
Genre: Drama
IMDB site:
Official site:

[I highly encourage my readers to visit this extremely well-done webpage. It's stunning.]
Written by: Peter Krikes and Steve Meerson; based on the diaries of Anna Leonowens
Directed by: Andy Tennant
Starring: Jodie Foster, Chow Yun-Fat, Bai Ling, Tom Felton, Keith Chin, Syed Alwi (Kralahome), Kay Siu Lim, Randall Duk Kim, Melissa Campbell, Deanna Yusoff, Shanthini Venugopal

Review Copyright Rose Cooper, 2000

3BC Ratings scale

red"I don't think so!"

yel"Ya might wanna slow your roll..."

grn"Get up, get out, and get--tickets to this one!"

The first of my "1999 catchup" movies, I avoided "Anna and the King" when it first came out, because of my general distaste for most remakes, especially music and movie remakes. While this distaste is not universal--I loved George Benson's turn on "Unchained Melody", for instance; similarly, I grooved on the Pierce Brosnan/Renee Russo version of "The Thomas Crowne Affair"--I can say without overmuch reservation that remakes twist my gizzards. And for me, the ghost of Yul Brenner's King Mongkut loomed heavy on the horizon of this version; so much so that it took me until yesterday, to go see it.

Of course, the irony in all of the above is that Yul's "The King and I" was, itself, a remake.

The Story (WARNING: **spoilers contained below**)
Set in Siam of the 1860's, "Anna and the King" tells the epic - and this time, non-musical - tale, based on the diary of widowed English schoolmistress Anna Leonowens (Jodie Foster), on how she and her son Louis (Tom) came to live in Siam (now Thailand). Their primary purpose there is to "Westernize" Prince Chulalongkorn (Keith Chin), the eldest son of King Mongkut (Chow Yun-Fat), "Lord of Life" in the eyes of head wife Lady Chang (Deanna Yusoff) and his 22 other wives and 42 concubines; his daughter Princess Fa-Ying (Melissa Campbell) and 66 other children; his brother, Chowfa (Kay Siu Lim); assistant Kralahome (Syed Alwi); and army General Alak (Randall Duk Kim). But all is not well in Siam: his newest wife, Tuptim (Bai Ling) is still in love with the man she left out of duty to her King; and Burmese forces, backed with the power of the British Empire Anna so proudly boasts of, conspire against him--possibly backed by a traitor within the King's trusted circle.

The Upshot
One of the traits that I have and generally consider a positive one - loyalty - is, alas, my undoing with regard to enjoying new things. In a nutshell, it takes a lot for me to let go of an old passion, to be able appreciate a new one. "Anna and the King" illustrates this precisely; try as I might, I kept comparing it, and its stars, Foster and Yun-Fat, to the "original" with Brenner as the King and Deborah Kerr as Anna (though I had far less problems with that role; Jodie Foster quickly made me say "Deborah who?"). Not that the "original", story-wise, was all that great; it had all of the Issues that come with musicals [who, really, breaks out in song to express an idea or problem?], but like many true Classics, such Issues are overlooked in favor of our nostalgia for Better Days.

Not so with the whippersnappers who come along as pretenders to the throne--to wit, "Anna". That it has the audacity to not Break Out In Song, makes the scrutiny all the more great. That "Anna", for the most part, is able to stand up to that scrutiny, is a tribute to the actors involved, if not the story itself (a story which resonates, "Black Factor"-wise, for me as a descendant of people taken into slavery. But more on that below). Foster, as I implied, was much easier a pill to swallow in the role of Anna than was her counterpart, Yun-Fat; a problem very much exacerbated by nostalgia.

My memories of "The King and I" are very much colored by nostalgia; I remember key scenes and songs (mostly because the school choir I was in, sang them), and the general storyline, but I haven't seen it on TV in quite some time. Were it not for "Anna", I would have missed the heartbreaking story of Tuptim and her love for Balat (Shanthini Venugopal), and how that came to cause Issues for The King and Anna; I have no memory of whether this was an important part of the musical version, and in fact, though I remember the name "Tuptim", I thought it was the name of one of The King's sons.

Were it not for "Anna", I would have missed the sweet Princess Fa-Ying, the "little monkey" who, in this version, held a stronger hold on The King's heart than did his eldest son; that bond, not the traditional "that's my boy!" father's pride, was more at the forefront here, and it bespoke a Kinder, Gentler King than Yul Brenner's, which of course has something to do with the times we live in (for modern times do have an effect on historical dramas), but I believe it has even more to do with the kind of actor Yun-Fat is. I saw this as a deficit at first--I kept fighting the urgency to shrug him off with a flippant "yeah, but he's no Yul Brenner"--but Yun-Fat did the wise thing by not trying to be Yul Brenner.

And were it not for "Anna", I would have remembered Siam as it was seen by Hollywood of the 1950's: a country full of Happy Little Orientals with few worries in their Primitive heads, with spoils afoot, begging for the taking--much like the Black slaves were seen in the book that the Prince was reading, "Uncle Tom's Cabin". And less distant yet, the many African countrymen and women whose countries were being colonialized by the "Great Empires" in the 19th and 20th centuries.

The "Black Factor"    [ObDisclaimer: We Are Not A Monolith]

If there's anything that raises my hackles, it's the patronizing notion that colonialization did anything for the nations who came under the rule of the "Great Empires" besides strip colonized countries of their natural resources, and force missionary ideals of "civilization" onto people whose "primitive" lives might well have been a whole lot better off in the end had they not been "blessed" with civilization, thank yew verrah much. How sad it was, then, that many times, it was the leaders of these "primitive" countries who sought out the Empire's patronage.

And Anna wasn't immune; Foster may or may not have meant to play it that way, but Anna's acceptance of White Privilege was not lost in all her posturing (sincere or not) about wanting Siam, The King, and Siam servants, to have the right to their freedom and destiny. Perhaps the posturing would've come across less fake, had Anna's Indian servants not have been fetching her tea and crumpets at the time.

Bammer's Bottom Line
Some things are better left alone--Celine Dion will go to a Special Hell for having the nerve to dare try and remake anything previously sang by diva Patti Labelle--some things just cannot be improved upon. But if you're gonna muster up the nads to remake a classic firmly embedded in the collective eyes of quite a few fans (I say again, Yul Brenner will ever be my vision of The King), you could do a damn sight worse than Jodie Foster and Chow Yun-Fat.

"Anna And The King":


Still, couldn't Jodie have tried to hum "Shall we dance"?

And that's the way I see it.

Rose "Bams" Cooper
3BlackChicks Enterprises™
Copyright Rose Cooper, 2000
EMAIL:    ICQ: 7760005

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More 3 Black Chicks...™ review(s) for this week:
(1999 wrapup: movies released on 12/17/99 and 12/25/99):
Bams' reviews:
"Anna and the King" (released 12/17/99) | "The Talented Mr. Ripley" (released 12/25/99)

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