After languishing in such crap as "Replacement Killers" and "The Corruptor", Chow Yun-Fat finally gets a chance to play a role in an American film that involves acting. And he manages to upstage everyone, including Jodie Foster. And she's won OSCARS!Anyone who dismisses Chow Yun-Fat's work with John Woo as simple action flicks on the level of Stallone or Schwartzeneggar hasn't seen Chow Yun-Fat's work with John Woo. So why is it that as soon as he made the trek to America, he was put into crap? I can't blame him for that; the guy's English is mediocre - he couldn't have possibly read those scripts. The thing about Chow-Yun Fat is that he's able to do action movies, and do them well; but he adds the human dimension that Stallone had to gain 80 pounds for and Arnold had to battle Satan for. He's really sensitive, while still managing to project an air of danger and ruggedness. And if he's able to do all this while acting in a film that was previously done as a musical with Yul Brunner, well, more power to him.
"Hail to the King, baby."
The plot: Anna Leonowens (Jodie Foster), a British widow with a young son, travels to Siam to act as tutor to the oldest male son of the King of Siam. Once there, she clashes with the King (our man Chow) over the role of women in Siamese society, over the treatment of his people, over the tutoring of his son, over slavery, and over what time to serve dinner. They clash regularily, and they both make pithy and wise observations about life, but then Chow says "I'm the King, and I can get your head chopped off remarkably easy" and that sufficiently ends the debate. But he respects her more than any woman he's met, and that includes his 23 wives and various concubines. The King of Siam has a LOT of kids, and there's a very cute scene where they put on what amounts to a school play. It works better than it sounds.
Jodie Foster does a very convincing British accent, and Chow Yun-Fat's English is decent, although it's sometimes difficult to catch everything he's saying right away. In fact, a great majority of the characters in this film, although Siamese in nature, speak English when they're talking to each other. I'm not sure why - the scenes work fine when everyone is speaking Siamese, but I suppose that if we need an English dubbed version of "Life is Beautiful" at every Blockbuster, we don't want too many subtitles in any movies.
The scenes with Anna and the King are the best part of the film - Jodie and Chow have a great rapport; their eyes seem to dance when they're talking to one another, and all the actors seem to build off that energy (especially the King's various children). Chow Yun-Fat, as I said before, is excellent in the role, playing the part with a mix of aloofness, humor, toughness, and a very touching love for his on-screen children. He's the best part of the movie. There is a lot more humor than I expected in the film, and it's the best kind of humor - that builds from the characters' personalities, and not contrived situations ("Oh, look, that crazy old king fell down the steps again!" "You laugh at my misfortune? Off with your head!" "Shit.")
The only weakness I can think of is the quasi-action movie finish, with Chow being forced to battle a traitor to the throne without benefit of an army. I have no idea if this was in the other versions of the story, but it seems too conventional a finish. Luckily, the film doesn't end with too many explosions - the last scene is very touching and effective. Also, some of the subplots (including one about one of the King's concubines and her true love and their struggle to be together) don't really add anything to the story and are somewhat confusing to follow.
All in all, this is a good period drama, with great acting by the two leads, solid acting by the supporting cast (except for the Stereotypical British guy with terrible teeth), and beautifully shot. Some of the locations were created on computer (they were not allowed to film in the actual locations where the film takes place), and they're flawless. Andy Tennant, the director, was responsible for the Drew Barrymore Cinderella movie, and seeing this shows me that he has a true visual flair for period dramas. Now let's see how he does with buddy-cop dramas.Worth seeing even if you've seen the other versions - the acting brings an old story to a new level. And there's no musical numbers! That's gotta be worth something.
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originally posted: 12/12/99 02:25:54