Don't expect any Rodgers and Hammerstein numbers in this fourth screen adaptation of Anna Leonowens' true-life adventures.
First filmed in 1946 as Anna And The King Of Siam, with Rex Harrison as the most improbable Oriental ever captured on celluloid, the story subsequently inspired the classic musical The King And I, in which Yul Brynner proved slapheads can be sexy (The less said about the execrable animated version released earlier this year the better.)
Andy Tennant's lavish live-action epic ditches the songs and plays it straight, placing the emphasis on the sexless intimacy between Foster's plucky bluestocking and Yun-Fat's smirking potentate, and introducing a tragic subplot involving one of Mongkut's concubines (Bai Ling) and her doomed love affair with a dashing young monk.
The result is The Last Emperor meets The Sound Of Music, full of sumptuous visuals and exotic locations, but scuppered by a dull script and a pair of stars who couldn't look less in love if they tried.
Foster, saddled with a plummy Home Counties accent that starts off distracting and soon becomes downright irritating, is clearly having fun in her scenes with the kids. But there's not a whiff of chemistry between her and Yun-Fat, while the latter looks lost without a gun to hold and some serious shit to blow up. (He seems far happier in the limp action finale, presumably tacked on to pacify his Asian fans who prefer their movies with a side order of macho.)
Director Andy Tennant, whose last exercise in period revisionism was Ever After: A Cinderella Story, once again incorporates a fairytale banquet and a hammy British thespian for comic relief (Geoffrey Palmer, complete with bushy sideburns).
However, it's difficult to reconcile such pantomime touches with hard-hitting depictions of brutal ambushes and ritualised beheadings. The only small saving grace here is a heartfelt performance from Bai Ling, who pays unwitting homage to Brynner by shaving her bonce halfway through the film.
Jodie Foster does a Gwyneth while Chow Yun-Fat swaps slo-mo gunplay for regal hauteur in this all-too-familiar tale. Despite the dazzling production values, there's only so many times you can pop the question: "Shall we dance?"
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