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Anna and the King

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Netflix choice that I watched alone.

I kinda wanted to see this in the theatre, but never made it.  Jodie Foster is pretty good at picking her roles.  I don't know if I've actually seen anything with Chow Yun Fat.

I didn't realize that it was set in Siam, which today is Thailand.  I used to work with a guy from Bangkok, so that made it mildly more interesting for me.  Of course, things are much different now.

Unfortunately, they didn't film any of it in Thailand.  I've seen a couple of movies that show the architecture, and it's very striking.  The spired, shingled roofes really stand out.  Maybe there weren't any similar buildings back then.   But to me their lack really stood out.  Most of the film was shot on the one (albeit large) set.

Jodie Foster plays a British widow who's a school teacher.  The movie starts with her, her son, and two Indian servants arriving in Siam.  She's been hired to teach the king's son English, and about the world outside of Siam.  The king ends up assigning her to teach all of his children, and some of his wives and concubines (he has a bunch.)

One thing that they touched on only briefly was Anna's slightly-distorted British view of the world.  At one point she says, "India is a British colony, so it's the same as Britain."  One of her servants rolls his eyes at her.  But that's really all the farther they go with it.  I think they were trying to show her changing away from her British-centered attitude by the time the king throws a dinner for some British dignitaries later in the movie.  But I didn't really see the progression.

I think what was missing was we never saw any change in how she treated her servants.   They were very minor characters, so there just weren't any opportunities to show her reevaluating her attitude toward them.

Also, part of it was that she played a woman who was very liberated for her time.   She was on her own and she wasn't a shrinking daisy.  She refused to abide by some of the baroque traditions when dealing with the king.  For example, people were supposed to prostrate themselves whenever the king entered the room, and she wouldn't do that.  Having her bucking local tradition kind of got in the way of showing her renunciation of British dominance.

And another thing was they had a couple of stories going on that didn't really tie in together as well as they might.  For example, the concubine's story looked like it was supposed to parallel the main theme in some way.  But it ended up paying off as just a big plot device.  And I guess the story of the two boys was supposed to demonstrate changing attitudes in both directions.  But that came across as pretty simpleton.

The Last Samurai replictaed a lot of atmosphere from this movie.  It could hardly avoid it since they're both about dropping a westerner in the middle of an eastern culture.  They learn from each other.   Unfortunately, similar to The Last Samurai, the transition of the character just didn't come across.

One big difference, though, was that the two main characters were the opposite gender.   Therefore, the love story could be central to the movie, rather than something tacked on and so clearly out of place.

Though, they did replace it with a silly Hollyweird battle scene.

The story was based on real events and real people, but of course I know nothing about the actual history.  It felt like it probably started reasonably accurately but veered off for the Hollyweird stuff at the end.

On my brother's Total Movie Value Scale, Rental with Popcorn and Drinks.  Overall, it was a solid story, with decent chararacters played by top actors.  But it wasn't any better than merely solid.  Which felt like a bit of a disappointment.

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Last modified: June 14, 2004
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