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Film / Anna and the King

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It is always surprising how small a part of life is taken up by meaningful moments. Most often they are over before they start although they cast a light on the future and make the person who originated them unforgettable. Anna had shined such a light on Siam.

Anna and the King is a 1999 adaptation of the 1944 novel Anna And The King Of Siam, a fictionalized account of Anna Leonowens' articles (pretty fictionalized themselves) of her time in Siam. It has elements of both the 1946 non-musical film with Irene Dunne and Rex Harrison, and the Rogers and Hammerstein musical. The film starred Jodie Foster as Anna, Chow Yun-fat as the King, and Tom Felton as Louis Leonowens.

Anna Leonowens is a young, British widow in the 1860s who moves to Siam to serve as tutor to the king's fifty-eight children. The king hopes to raise his heirs with a sense of globalism and a knowledge of the modern world outside of Siam. Anna struggles to balance teaching modern world views while respecting Siamese tradition.

See also: The King and I.

This film provides examples of:

  • All Asians Know Martial Arts: There's a brief scene showing Mongkut doing tai chi. The real Mongkut served 27 years as a Buddhist monk, not a warrior.note  One of the posters for the film also has a martial arts look.
  • Award-Bait Song: "How Can I Not Love You", performed by Joy Enriquez at the end over the credits.
  • Arranged Marriage: Tuptim is brought to the king as a gift to cement her father's business interests.
  • Bodyguard Betrayal
  • Costume Porn
  • Culture Clash: Anna is addressed as 'Sir' at the court because women are not spoken to by the high officials. The real-life reason for Anna's being addressed as "sir" is much simpler: "sir" and "madam" are the same word, khun, in Thai.
  • Dance of Romance: Romantic as always, but with subtle political undertones as a bonus.
  • Evil Chancellor: General Alak.
  • Fisher King: The people of Siam believe that the King can summon rain by his prayers.
  • Going Native: Anna makes a point of ensuring that she keeps a proper British household and she and Louis dress in proper British attire. Anna does give on some traditions and even sneaks out at night and tries to go swimming like she saw the Siamese women do.
  • Gorgeous Period Dress: Everything Anna wears.
  • Gory Discretion Shot: The execution of Tuptim and her lover.
  • Historical Villain Upgrade: Alak's portrayal in the film differs greatly compared to his real-life counterpart. In reality. Alak was just the royal secretary/librarian and not a bad man at all. The king's brother held the traditional role of maha uparaja, kind of a vice-king who'd step in if something happened to His Majesty. Then Mongkut made him Second King, equal to himself. Much more about the Second King and how their system worked here.
  • Letting Her Hair Down: Anna. She came from Victorian Britain, so she could not let her hair down in public, but the scene when she meets the King in her night apparel has all the symbolism of this trope.
  • Mirroring Factions: During the dance, a British official laughs at how ridiculous he finds Siamese beliefs to be. The King takes it in stride, pointing out how the English believe in King Arthur and how he pulled a magic sword from a stone (a story which Anna had told the King about earlier).
  • Nice Job Breaking It, Hero: Anna really meant well, but her attempt to appeal to the King to stop Tuptim's execution only seals the deal. The King was going to overturn the sentence, but after Anna's outburst in court, it will look like he's taking orders from her and is a weak king.
  • Nostalgic Narrator: Prince Chulalongkorn gives the opening and the closing monologues.
  • Polyamory: the King asks Anna how is it possible for the men in England to be happy with only one wife at the time. He is clearly trying to be a good husband for all his wives. For her part, Anna is initially unable to believe that so many women could share the same husband and not be jealous of one another. It's explained to her that the wives all get along because each one secretly believes she's the one the King likes best.
  • Outliving One's Offspring: King's favorite daughter falling ill and dying, which really did happen although Anna says she actually arrived too late to say goodbye.
  • Protocol Peril: Anna nearly gets killed after she approaches the King without being officially announced.
  • Scenery Porn: Starting with the city and palace, and carrying on to the beautiful river, the countryside and mountains, and majestic trees with corpses hanging from them — there's a war on.
  • She Cleans Up Nicely: Anna's appearance in a Pimped-Out Dress at the supper for English guests. Dance of Romance ensues.
  • Succession Crisis: Alak tries to invoke this trope. It's quite a task, seeing as he has to take out King Mongkut, his brother, and all 58 of his children (and 10 more on the way). Needless to say, this didn't happen either. "General" Alak didn't even exist. There was a P'hra Alâck who was the chief royal secretary (he's in the 1946 film), who said some unkind things about Anna's attempts to be influential at court, but he was not that bad, and even sent his regards when Anna left Siam.
  • Traumatic Haircut: Tuptim shaves her head and joins the temple in an attempt to be closer to the man she loves.
  • White Man's Burden: Thankfully deconstructed. Anna is hired to teach English and Western subjects to the royal Siamese household, but proper British are still dismissive and condescending towards the Siamese, even to their king. On the other side, Anna's meddling into local politics sometimes do more harm than good because their respective cultures are too distant. Still she bonds greatly with her pupils and the Prince will eventually be a good ruler because of his education.
  • Very Loosely Based on a True Story: The story is based on a novelization based on Anna's (real life) articles. These in themselves are highly suspect, to the point that this is more like Based on a Great Big Lie, a lot of great big racist lies in fact, and many elements of them have been left out anyway. There is a book out called Masked with research and insight into what really happened.
    • Not to mention that Portuguese-Japanese-Bengali Maria Guyomar de Pinha came first roughly a century earlier, did much of the stuff Leonowens is credited for, is way better regarded in Thailand, and is credited with introducing modern Thai desserts based on Portuguese convent sweets.
  • You No Take Candle: This version still has educated Siamese talking this way. While non-PC, this could also be a literal translation of Siamese to English. That is, since the Siamese language has no articles, it would be natural for a Siamese person to carry that rule over to English.
    • This may also be where they got the idea to have the King say things like "Wellwellwell?" or "Sitsitsit!" In Thai, repeating a word intensifies it.
    • In the 1946 version, Rex Harrison actually speaks some Thai in his first scene. He says, approximately, "Mem can't answer!" to his "How many grandchildren?", and a few minutes later, "The children (dek dek), bring them here."
  • Your Normal Is Our Taboo: Anna expresses her indignation after she is asked by an official, whom she met for the first time, about the way in which her husband died. It turns out that asking about most private matters at the beginning of the conversation is considered as a way of expressing kindness in Siam. She's visibly embarrassed when she realizes her mistake.