Anna and the King (1999) - USA
As part of the Film Critics Series - Analysing Chow Yun Fat in Hollywood
Reviewed by Andrew Chan (Film Critics Circle of Australia)
To say Chow Yun Fat singlehandedly made the beautifully shot “Anna and the King” a better film than it is will be a clear understatement. Starring Jodie Foster as Anna and Chow as the famed King Mongkut of Siam, the film stays closer to the original diaries than the often fictionalised “King and I” and by the very fact of having an Asian actor play the King makes the experience a far more authentic from start to finish. Director Andy Tennant doesn’t make a lot of movies, but in this film he allows the visual sceneries and beauty of Siam cultures capturing the details on the streets to the glamorous palace. Lavish in production values and fabulous sceneries of Malaysia despite not being able to film in Thailand, the film manages to be a showcase of cross-cultural learning experience for both the King and Anna and their respective self in times of heavy colonialism.
Chow Yun Fat is right at home and is given the best Hollywood role to date as the open minded and intelligent King Mongkut. Chow is filled with great regal presence and is charming enough to convince as a leader of the people with a grand vision for the betterment and survival of Siam. Jodie Foster plays the famed Anna and struggles in the role. Foster is a great actress, but in many scenes simply spell out the dialogue when it could be far more. There is potential in the relationship between Chow and Foster, but Chow overshadows and often commands all the scenes he is in. Bai Ling is excellent in the role of the vulnerable yet strong minded Tuptim, she added layers to a cliche role.
All in all, “Anna and the King” provides an excellent backdrop for a cultural experience and how we as human beings can learn from one another for the betterment society, politics and humanity. The film ultimately provides a wonderful ranged dramatic role for Chow Yun Fat, a rare pure romantic leading acting role in blockbuster Hollywood picture (with a big budget of USD91 million). As they say, opportunity awaits those who are ready and Chow performs and comes through well even if the film does not entirely.
I rated it 7.5/10