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Anna and the King: Special Edition

On first hearing that a new version of the story of Anna and the King of Siam was being filmed, one might wonder why anyone would feel the need to do such a thing. And upon hearing that the roles in the new film Anna and the Kingwere being played by Jodie Foster and Chow-Yun Fat, one might also have shared the mixed feelings that, firstly, Chow Yun-Fat would be absolutely marvelous as the King. And, second, that Jodie Foster seemed strikingly miscast as Anna. And you would have been right on the money on both counts. Chow is marvelous — simply put, no one else could play the role of King Mongkut with such self-confidence, warmth and quiet sex appeal. The man is the biggest movie star in the world for reason, and his screen presence makes it somewhat understandable that this English schoolteacher would fall for an overbearing foreigner with 23 wives and 42 concubines (which was the main weakness in both the 1946 version and with the Rodgers and Hammerstein musical treatment The King and I). As for Jodie Foster — aside from the aforementioned miscasting, the question that must be asked is this: why-oh-why didn't she get Gwyneth Paltrow's dialect coach? Is it simply that no one in Hollywood has the guts to tell Jodie that she has no facility for any accent beyond that mid-Southern white-trash drawl she worked up for The Accused and Silence of the Lambs? For a director, you would doubtless assume that the studio would go with someone who had a solid background helming large-scale epics, but director Andy Tennant's background is largely in television. He tries very, very hard to make up for his shortcomings in Anna and the King by surrounding himself with talent and then using the heck out of their work. Production designer Luciana Arrighi has created a splendorous, colorful, multi-textured world that is so beautiful and detailed that Tennant can't help constantly sweeping his camera over it, as if he's afraid he somehow won't get his money's worth if he doesn't dolly through every scene. Ultimately, Anna and the King doesn't deserve a total trashing. The film really is lovely to look at, if you don't pay much attention to the words and, well — it has Chow Yun-Fat. Rex Harrison with eyeliner just wasn't sexy. Fox's Anna and the King: Special Edition DVD features a crisp widescreen transfer (2.35:1) and rich sound in Dolby Digital 5.1. Five featurettes are offered, all cobbled together from mostly the same footage and interviews but focusing on different aspects of the production, including production design, costume design and animal training. Six deleted scenes are included, with the option of director commentary — a nice touch, giving the viewer the chance to hear why, exactly, the scenes weren't used. Also includes an "HBO First Look" featurette, the theatrical trailer, and a music video by Joy Enriquez of the song "How Can I Not Love You." Keep-case.
—Dawn Taylor

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