Anna and the King

Chow Yun-Fat as Prince Charming.

PUFF DADDY would be jealous. The King of Siam is living large, with dozens of svelte concubines in a palace filled to the gills with gold. Director Andy Tennant (Ever After) has gone all-out with costumes and set design for the fourth screen adaptation of Anna Leonowens' 1862 diaries. He recreates Bangkok's Grand Palace complete with golden spires, marble sculptures, and ecologically correct gardens full of birds, insects, and reptiles. Costumes glitter like jewels, fans are made of shiny peacock feathers, and hair is adorned with rings of white seashells. So gorgeous is Tennant's film that even a beheading looks good, preceded by a kind of sword dance from the executioners. The only unsightly elements in the movie are the Englishmen, who appear rumpled, sweaty, and altogether disagreeable.

ANNA AND THE KING

directed by Andy Tennant

with Jodie Foster and Chow Yun-Fat

opens December 17 at Metro, Oak Tree, Pacific Place, and others

Updating Anna's story meant nixing the yellow-facing and musical numbers, and replacing The King and I's polka showstopper with a romantic, gliding waltz. It also meant that many of the actors had to learn Thai. As the king, Chow Yun-Fat actually speaks a version of the language used only within the royal court. He also brings an infectious charisma to the role of the demanding king; his version is much more of a gentleman than Yul Brynner's incarnation in the 1956 adaptation of the Rodgers and Hammerstein show, and it's not long before Jodie Foster's hardheaded schoolteacher gets soft for him. The Hong Kong action star even transposes an old act, chewing a cigar like he used to chew a toothpick in his John Woo movies, with eyes boring into an adversary, upper lip curled like a lion's tail. But I'll be damned—if they ever make a biopic about Chow it'll be called Never Been Kissed. Like all of Chow's previous roles, the king never gives our heroine more than a brush on the cheek. Still, this is one of the most beautiful and romantic fantasies of the year; file it under guilty pleasure.

 
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