Monday, January 28, 2013
MM Movie Review: Anna and the King
So, to the movie, Anna, her son Louis and her Indian servants arrive in Siam to teach the royal children and immediately causes a stir by (gasp) standing upright in the presence of men and refusing to prostrate herself before the King. Fairly early on we also get the beginnings of the main conflict for the movie which is that the Burmese (a British possession) are colluding with the minister of war to launch a coup to overthrow King Mongkut with the aim of making the country a British colony (none of which actually happened in real life). We do get some liberal-progressive lines from Jodie Foster (and I say that as it sounds more like the words of a left-wing Hollywood actress than a daughter of the British Empire) scolding the Brits for thinking that one country or culture could be superior to another. That’s all fine and dandy except that it goes against her actions throughout most of the entire movie. She is the one, for example, who teaches the little crown prince (future King Chulalongkorn) that slavery is wrong by having him read the American novel “Uncle Tom’s Cabin”, to the displeasure of his father. It is Anna who arranges a reception for the British officials, getting everyone to dress in European clothes, eat with a knife and fork and to stop falling prostrate whenever the King comes into the room. It is Anna who stands up for the tragic Juliet-figure of Tuptim (Bai Ling) who is forced into the royal harem despite being in love with another man -which ends in tragedy.
However, the film is also not without some positive elements. Jodie Foster and Chow Yun-fat are both acting pros and turn in great performances. It is beautifully shot and really succeeds in putting the viewer in the correct time and place. The palaces are gorgeous, the scenery is breathtaking and, for many people I think, the visuals alone would be worth the price of the rental (or however people are seeing movies these days). The King, although not always a “nice” guy is portrayed pretty positively and he is shown as a man who is genuinely struggling to do the right thing. There are also some fairly funny moments from time to time, such as the look the Indian servants silently exchange when Anna tells her son that “India is British Louis, that’s what being colonized is all about” or Louis, in their house surrounded by chanting Buddhist monks, says he feels like they’re living “in a beehive”. The sets, the costumes and the overall “look” of the movie was, to me, the strongest aspect of it and, as film is a visual medium, that goes a long way. It is no surprise that it received two Academy Award nominations for Art Direction and Costume Design but, overall, was not a very successful film, losing money domestically and only making a minor profit internationally.