Anna and the King [1999]

What's a director to do? Andy Tennant's previous film was the highly enjoyable Cinderella romance Ever After, which vanished from theaters and became a video hit. Then Tennant made this gorgeous, nonmusical version of Anna and the King, and once again felt the sting of box-office failure. Both films deserved better, and this Anna is certain to eventually find the appreciative audience that eluded it in theaters. In many ways, this delightful costume romance transcends the latter-day quaintness of The King and I to offer a more lavish and rewarding version of the story of Anna Leonowens, based on her diaries and first told in Margaret Landon's 1944 novel. In an otherwise admirable performance (although many felt her miscast), Jodie Foster struggles with her Victorian accent as Anna, the grieving widow who arrives in Siam in 1860 with her young son. Having accepted a post as tutor for the many children of the polygamous King Mongkut (Chow Yun-Fat), Anna finds herself drawn to the progressive monarch, whose passions swirl in a turbulent political climate. If the chemistry isn't entirely there, this culture clash still has plenty of regal charm, and Luciana Arrighi's production design is appropriately magnificent. Humor and politics are given equal measure, and Chow Yun-Fat is arguably the most endearing king to date--powerful yet tender, forceful but anguished by the heavier burdens of leadership. Bai Ling's intense performance as the tragic lover Tuptim adds emotional depth to one of the most underrated films of 1999. --Jeff Shannon

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