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It is impossible for anyone familiar with the 1956 musical The King And I or the 1946 movie Anna And The King Of Siam, to not compare them with Anna And The King (1999). While all three tell the tale of the English widow hired by King Mongkut of Siam to teach his wives and children in the 1860's, this is a much more serious adaptation of the experiences of Anna Leonowens.
Some elements of the familiar story are the same. The somewhat stubborn Anna (Jodie Foster), attempts to teach not only English, but also English civilization and western ideals to King Mongkut (Chow Yun Fat) and his family. Mongkut, who takes pride in being liberal minded, recognizes that practices like slavery and physical punishment, may need to change if he wishes to improve trade relations with the British. Anna, a firm believer in human rights, is more than willing to give him advice.
Unlike past interpretations however, the King is wise enough to recognize such broad alterations will take time. Meanwhile, he has bigger things to worry about. Siam's northern citizens are being murdered, and while his advisors suspect British controlled Burma is behind the problem, the king is not so sure. He is caught between increased pressure to appear "civilized" to the English, and taking action to protect his citizens against this unknown force. Violent confrontations result (though not explicit or gratuitous), including an execution where we barely see two people decapitated, scenes of fighting and war, a man being shot in the head, and bodies hung from trees. Considering the king's alternatives, the violence is dealt with in a justifiable way, but parents should heed the PG-13 rating on this film.
Leonowens really was a governess to Siam's royal family, but there is speculation even she understood that her stories were as much fiction as fact. Anna And The King is not an historical text, but rather a lush cinema epic which attempts to answer many serious questions that the musical danced over. If not confused with truth, it makes an extraordinary film.
Anna And The King is rated PG-13: for some intense violent sequences.
Cast: Jodie Foster Chow Yun Fat
Studio: (pictures (c)1999 20th Century Fox)