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20th Century Fox presents

Anna and the King (1999)

"Most people do not see the world as it is. They see it as they are. And a good king needs a broader view."- Anna Leonowens (Jodie Foster)

Stars: Jodie Foster, Chow Yun-Fat
Other Stars: Ling Bai, Tom Felton, Randall Duk Kim
Director: Andy Tennant

Manufacturer: DVCC
MPAA Rating: PG-13 for some intense violent sequences
Run Time: 02h:27m:56s
Release Date: 2000-10-31
Genre: drama

Image Transfer
Audio Transfer
A B+B+A C-


DVD Review

Anna and the King is a fictionalized account of the relationship between Mrs. Anna Leonowens (Jodie Foster), a British widow summoned from India to Siam in the 1800's by King Mongkut (Chow Yun-Fat) as a tutor for his young son and heir, Prince Chulalongkorn (Keith Chin). Charged with teaching all of the King's children (courtesy of his multiple wives and concubines), the strong-willed Leonowens earns Mongkut's respect and helps him withstand a challenge to his throne. Anna and the King develop an intellectual friendship that grows into a deep but unconsummated love for each other.

The story of Anna Leonowens and the King of Siam (as recounted in Ms. Leonowens' own diaries) has been told many times on stage and screen, and if you've seen Rodgers and Hammerstein's The King and I (even the execrable animated version) the basic outlines of the story will be familiar. The true nature of their relationship remains foggy as far as history is concerned, but every popular version of the story devotes at least some attention to the supposed romance between proto-feminist Anna and the stubborn but progressive King. Anna and the King also attempts to fill out the story's historical context, focusing a good deal of attention on the conflict between Burma and Siam, the external colonial influences of France and Britain, and a coup attempt by Mongkut's General Alak (Randall Duk Kim). It also deals in a concrete fashion with the slavery and strict court system under Mongkut's rule; the supporting female character Tuptim (portrayed with sensitivity and emotion by Ling Bai) is not merely grist for a romantic subplot here. Anna and the King uses the story of Tuptim (a concubine given as a "gift" to the King who attempts to escape to rejoin her true love) to illustrate the uneasy weight and balance of royal power—the King cannot act to stop her beheading lest he upset the nobility upon whose support his rule and legitimacy depend.

Andy Tennant's film takes an intelligent, epic yet intimate approach to this story, backed by a sumptuous production shot on location in Malaysia—sets and costumes feel authentic, and wide shots of Mongkut's palace grounds inspire the intended awe. Jodie Foster plays Victorian English with dignity and strength, calling a young Maggie Smith to mind in many scenes, and Chow Yun-Fat demonstrates considerable acting ability; his King is a complex and layered performance, communicating Mongkut's conflicting, often contradictory feelings, words and actions with skill and subtlety. Chow handles his Thai accent (quite different from his normal Chinese-accented English speaking voice) as well as Foster does her British, and the two work very well together—the "chemistry" criticism often leveled at the film upon its release seems unwarranted. Both understand the deep but unrealizable love between Anna and Mongkut, and the actors communicate their characters' mutual respect and deeply felt affection without so much as a frayed bodice or stolen embrace. This is a mature sort of love rarely seen onscreen, subject to insurmountable social constraints but nonetheless deep and powerful, depicting two characters who share a yearning for a relationship they can never have. Those looking for a Harlequin romance might have preferred to see Julia Roberts and Richard Gere in the leads, but I found Foster and Chow's subtler sparks genuine and delightful.

Anna and the King is not a perfect film—some attempts at humor are heavy-handed, the child actors often sound "coached" and wooden, ethnic characterizations occasionally verge on stereotype, and the film moves a tad slowly. But the film's poor box-office reception belies its quality. It's an old-fashioned film, the kind that once upon a time might have been promoted as "A glorious spectacle—in Technicolor!", sent on a roadshow tour with overture and intermission, and aired on network television every Easter thereafter (sans a few violent moments). Slightly overblown, historically inaccurate, but essentially honest and serious, Anna and the King is well worth a look.

Rating for Style: A
Rating for Substance: B+


Image Transfer

Aspect Ratio2.35:1 - Widescreen
Original Aspect Ratioyes

Image Transfer Review: Anna and the King is presented in its original 2.35:1 widescreen theatrical aspect ratio with a solid anamorphic transfer. The source print is generally clean, though subject to more dirt flecking around the reel changes than is usual for recent films. The film's big-budget production design is well-captured here, handling the deep colors of royalty and the subtler shades of Ms. Leonowen's wardrobe with equal fidelity, and the DVD transfer represents the film's richly textured architecture, fabric and vegetation accurately for the most part. Unfortunately, there is SO much fine detail and depth-of-field in some wide shots that DVD resolution seems not quite up to the task, leading to minor shimmer and softness here and there. But this is nitpicking—Anna and the King is a sweeping, beautifully-composed film that remains visually impressive on DVD.

Image Transfer Grade: B+

Audio Transfer

 LanguageRemote Access
DS 2.0English, Frenchyes
Dolby Digital

Audio Transfer Review: Fox presents Anna and the King in several audio formats—English Dolby Digital 2.0, French DD 2.0 and English DD 5.1. The 5.1 track is rich and crisp, well-balanced with clear dialogue and appropriate LFE bass, using split surrounds for ambience and occasional dramatic effects. The 2.0 tracks are significantly "flatter" with minimal surround usage, though dialogue and music are still impressively clear. Though the film is primarily dialogue-driven, it benefits from George Fenton's enveloping orchestral score and well-designed sound effects, from subtle atmospherics to powerful explosions. As is standard for recent, digitally-mastered film soundtracks, the 5.1 presentation is of excellent quality, and the 2.0 tracks will not disappoint those with more limited equipment.

Audio Transfer Grade:

Disc Extras

Static menu with music
Scene Access with 20 cues and remote access
Subtitles/Captions in English, Spanish, French (partial) with remote access
1 Original Trailer(s)
6 Deleted Scenes
1 Alternate Endings
1 Documentaries
4 Featurette(s)
1 Feature/Episode commentary by Director Andy Tennant
Packaging: Alpha
1 Disc
1-Sided disc(s)
Layers: RSDL
Layers Switch: 01h:07m:27s

Extra Extras:
  1. How Can I Not Love You Music Video
Extras Review: Fox provides the Anna and the King DVD with 20 picture-menu chapter stops and optional English and Spanish subtitles. The subtitles are displayed as supertitles in scenes where Thai dialogue is subtitled with burned-in English subtitles; there's also an unadvertised French subtitle track, which only supertitles the subtitled Thai dialogue for use with the French audio track. The disc also includes a substantial though somewhat oversold collection of extras:

Theatrical Trailer:

The film's trailer is presented in a 1.85:1 widescreen non-anamorphic letterboxed transfer with Dolby Digital 2.0 audio. The transfer is rather poor, apparently taken from a videotape master with a soft, slightly smeary appearance throughout.

Director Commentary:

Director Andy Tennant provides a running screen-specific commentary; he pauses frequently for thought and seems reluctant to "step on" major lines of dialogue, but he manages to find something interesting to say through much of the film's two-and-a-half-hour running time. His remarks are enthusiastic, honest and intelligent (if a little starstruck where Jodie Foster is concerned) and he brings up technical points of interest as well as humorous anecdotes about cast and production personnel.

Behind the Scenes:

This section includes 2 documentaries and 4 featurettes, though there's much less here than meets the eye. A twenty-four minute "TV Special" leads off, presented in 1.33:1 full-frame with letterboxed film clips; it's an informative but puffy piece, providing some information about the production while striving to promote the film at every opportunity. A second feature, "Advanced Combo", is simply an earlier work-in-progress version of the "TV Special", very much the same material with "NOT FOR BROADCAST" titles superimposed throughout. The four featurettes, "Production Design", "Featurette", "Costumes" and "Elephants" are merely short repackagings of segments of the "TV Special." It would have been more appropriate to include the "TV Special" with chapter stops; this approach has "needless padding" written all over it, and the DVD package copy's reference to a "Television Special" and "Five Featurettes" seems misleading at best.

Deleted and Extended Scenes:

Seven deleted/alternate version scenes are presented here with slightly dark transfers, two in letterboxed 1.33:1 and five in 2.35:1 anamorphic, with optional commentary by director Andy Tennant. These are solid scenes, generally cut or shortened for time or because an alternate sequence was used to cover the same ground. This section also includes the film's original prologue and epilogue sequences, which frame the story in a significantly different manner. Tennant's commentaries provide considerable insight into the production, script revision and editing process.

How Can I Not Love You Music Video:

In recent years movie studios have been led to believe that a music video is an essential part of a film's marketing, hence this presentation of Joy Enriquez' pop/country recording, heard only during the film's end credits. The Dolby Digital 2.0 audio is solid enough, with decent bass by 2.0 standards, but the video is poor, obviously video-originated with red/blue aliasing, shimmering and blocking artifacts throughout. Ms. Enriquez seems talented enough in her generic appearances between letterboxed 1.85:1 pan-and-scan clips from the film, but the song has so little to do with the style or content of the film that the whole affair seems hopelessly out of place.

Extras Grade: C-

Final Comments

Anna and the King is a sumptuously designed, emotionally restrained romance that's as much about intellectual affinity as love in the traditional sense. Fox's DVD looks and sounds great, with some worthwhile supplements. If you missed this ambitious, thoughtful film at the box office, you should consider checking out the DVD. Recommended.

Dale Dobson 2000-12-02