Date: December 19th, 1999Cast:
Anna - Jodie Foster
King Mongkut - Chow Yun-Fat
Tuptim - Ling Bai
Prince Chulalongkorn - Keith Chin
Director: Andy Tennant
There is a scene in My Cousin Vinny, when Ralph Macchio is talking to his friend about making it look like that there is more to something than there actually is, using bricks. You are shown the front, the sides and all looks fine, but, to steal from another movie earlier this year, look closer. Its flat, lacks dimension or depth. The looks indeed are deceiving. Such is the impression that I was left with after seeing Anna and The King.
Based upon the popular musical, The King and I, this movie basically takes the music out of it, but does not compensate, nor leave us, with anything to replace it. Without the music, it becomes a tale of clashing cultures, warfare, and racial and sexual oppression. These arent really cheery, happy love story topics eh? Granted, director Andy Tennant has the external appearance of something grandiose. The sets, costumes, and scenery are truly magnificent. However, a nicely wrapped empty box, leaves you feeling cheated, as does this movie. Jodie Foster, and Chow Yun-Fat do there best to overcome the weak script, and clunky transitions that stand out like David Duke at Run-DMC concert. Normally, when a movie is comparative to a play, it is because the scenes work so well independently. The transition from one to another is so smooth and natural that it's like watching a well-done stage production onscreen. The performances are worthy of the production of a play. Foster has the every-woman role down pat. Here, she plays it straight laced, wide-eyed, sad, but a defiant and determined. Very few actresses could pull it off, especially given this material. I almost felt sorry for her. She is one of our greatest living actresses, hence she can slip and fit into any role. Here, she is effective, but seemingly unchallenged in her portrayal of a simple British school teacher brought into to educate the children of a King. Fat, living apparently in the shadow of Yul Brynner, presents an intimidating, yet compassionate King. He is at times ruthless, understanding, traditional and lonely. Also worth note is his young daughter, with dreams of being a monkey, and dancing under the stars. She is easily the most adorable thing I have seen onscreen this year.
My problems arise, once these characters with their beautiful surroundings, costumes and sets, open their mouths, and begin interacting and doing things. The story, in all its beauty and splendor, is just not interesting, and is even depressing in parts. It does not transition smoothly, from scene to scene, as if I could see those stage hands moving those palm trees, and refilling the buckets that make it rain, very uncomfortable to watch. The scripting and direction is overblown, and stretched out in parts to bring out emotions, lost in the translation.
Ultimately, Anna and The King is all visual substance, but no heart depth or emotion. I understand that Tennant wanted to take this play, with a bigger budget, and greater possibilities, and make it into something epic. The potential existed for something special, lush backgrounds, big name performers, a familiar story. The stage was set. Someone just forgot to tell the director. The result, is a more elaborate stage version, lacking the consistency, cohesiveness, and deft touch required for this kind of transition. I grew bored, and disinterested, because frankly these are topics that require a better touch than Tennant has. He uses all of his money on the background, but none his brain power on the script. Anna and the King is a disappointment of royal proportions. The visuals merit a big screen viewing. However in my heart, I cannot recommend anything more than a video rental. ($$ out of $$$$)
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