| In the Spotlight |
Most remakes don't live up to their originals, but Anna and the King (Fox; rated PG-13 for violence), now in theaters, finds new territory in the story most know as The King & I musical. Done as epic drama instead of Rogers & Hammerstein-driven melodrama, it paints the story of the relationship between British schoolteacher Anna Leonowens (Jodie Foster) and King Mongkut of Siam in a more realistic light. This time Anna and King are combatants who are evenly matched. The Siamese monarch comes out of the realm of self-parody and becomes a believable character, largely thanks to the strong performance by Chow Yun-Fat, Asia's answer to Clint Eastwood. This movie bends over backwards to be faithful to Thai culture, though its appreciation of Buddhism stops short of the tacky cartoon version from earlier this year (see WORLD, April 3, 1999). Shot in Malaysia with enormous sets and 19 elephants among the cast, this film is far earthier and more heartrending than its predecessors. King Mongkut is caught between the traditions of his homeland and the sweeping changes brought by the British Empire. In making him more human than the campy Yul Brynner and Rex Harrison renditions, he becomes hard to swallow. While Mongkut opened the door to Western learning-including Anna-he also ran Siam as an iron-handed religious autocrat. Anna is so well made that it hides its own implausibility.