Anna and the King (PG-13)
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This is loosely based on historic people and events. The story has been made into various movies over the years, but I think this is the only version I've seen. It came out in 1999, and I actually got to see it in a theater, that being the only time in my life that I had easy access to a bunch of different movie theaters (as opposed to rather difficult access to just one or two theaters, which is what I'm used to). Anyway, I'm sure I rather liked it at the time, and over a decade later, I got the movie on DVD, though it was about another couple of years before I watched the DVD. So... here I am in 2012, and I just saw the movie for the second time ever. So it's time to write a review.
Jodie Foster played a British schoolteacher named Anna Leonowens, who I gather had spent most of her life traveling, most recently having lived in Bombay, India, when she came to Bangkok, Siam, at the start of the movie, in 1862. Chow Yun-fat played the king of Siam, Mongkut. He wanted Anna to teach his children (his many, many children) English, science, and literature. He wanted to change Siam, modernize it. Though of course, he knew it couldn't happen very quickly. Meanwhile, Anna (who was widowed, and brought her son, Louis, with her, as well as a couple of Indian servants), was a very strong-willed, opinionated woman. She didn't pay the greatest heed to Siamese customs, with regard to her place as a woman, let alone the way she should act toward the king. And yet, King Mongkut was more often than not accomodating. Not always, of course... and one time in particular, he couldn't afford to be accomodating, even if he wished he could. That... was quite tragic, but I'm not going to spoil the circumstances.
Anyway... hmmm. What can I tell you? Mongkut had lots of wives, and concubines, and children. We only ever really get to know two of his kids at all: his eldest son, Prince Chulalongkorn, and a young daughter, Princess Fa-Ying. We never particularly get to know any of his wives. Though he does have a new concubine named Tuptim (Bai Ling), who has an important subplot. We also see a bit of Mongkut's brother, Prince Chowfa. And the Prime Minister. And General Alak. And while Anna was doing her best to teach the kids, and having a certain degree of influence on the king, there was also more important stuff going on. The Burmese were making raids on some Siamese villages, or whatever, and that was complicated because the British considered Burma a protectorate of theirs. So... in spite of the British seemingly being friendly with Siam, it looked as if they were behind the attacks. Althought ultimately... well, I don't want to spoil anything. I'm afraid I don't know much about this part of history, and I don't know how accurate the movie is, but it became quite important to the plot. Mostly, though, the movie was sort of a... an impossible love story between Anna and the King. In spite of their differences, they both came to respect and care about each other, but of course it could never actually become a romance. For so many reasons.
And I don't really know what else to say. I thought the acting was great, the cinematography was great. The movie was kinda long, but that's okay. I liked the characters. It was a decent story. Oh, and I should mention that I'm aware of various adaptations of the story, including this one, being disapproved of by the people and government of Siam/Thailand for the depiction of King Mongkut, and the Siamese people in general. There may be some merit in such feelings in regards to other adaptations, but in this one, I feel that Mongkut was quite respectable. An intelligent and compassionate man, with a good sense of humor, who loved his family and his country, who was wise enough to realize his people needed to develop broader views of the world, but was still strongly Siamese. In fact I'd say some of the secondary British characters were depicted in a more negative light than the Siamese. Of course, no character is perfect... because people aren't. And naturally... some concessions had to be made to tell a good story, rather than necessarily adhering strictly to historical accuracy. Viewed in light of all this, I don't think there's much reason for anyone, of any nationality, to take offense at this movie.