Novel to Screenplay
Auditions and Casting
On Location
Relationships on the Set
Film Stills
Publicity Poses
Candid Shots
Premiere/Awards Photos



"Anna and the King" is the third film to chronicle the story of British governess Anna Leonowens in Victorian Siam, and it is far and away the most picturesque version. Gorgeous location photography lends verisimilitude to the dreamily exotic setting and familiar romance. Jodie Foster makes a placidly beautiful yet passionate Anna Leonowens, a widowed schoolteacher who accepts the job of teaching the fifty-eight children sired by Siam's King Mongkut (Chow Yun-Fat) and immediately finds herself locked in a battle of wills with the potentate. Director Andy Tennant ("Ever After") draws repeated comparisons between Eastern and Western philosophies, and he sharply delineates Mongkut's dilemma of equipping his children with the education to cope with the changing times, and preserving the traditions and beliefs that have governed his people for centuries. Chow Yun-Fat is marvelous and regal as the multidimensional ruler, while Bai Ling delivers a fine performance in a supporting role. The costumes and sets are simply breathtaking, and the story both enchanting and compelling.

This film is rated PG-13 for some mature themes and violence.

From Novel to Screenplay

"Anna and the King" was based in part on its film predecessors, the 1946 "Anna and the King of Siam," directed by John Cromwell, starring Rex Harrison and Irene Dunne; and the 1956 musical "The King and I," directed by Walter Lang and starring Yul Brynner and Deborah Kerr. The film is, however, not a remake of either and draws upon historical writings and the real-life Anna Leonowens' own diaries. The movie is loosely based on a controversial book written by Leonowens, who is criticized by some Thai historians to have embellished much of it to make herself a name. In her book, for example, she claims to have influenced the king's decision to bar slavery and states that Thais did not kill rats, considering them to be ancestors. Thais also feel that the previous movie versions based on Leonowens' disputed memoirs portray King Mongkut as an ignoramus rather than the linguist and Buddhist scholar he was.

The original script depicted King Mongkut using chopsticks instead of cutlery, bathing in a tub and receiving a massage, and playing polo. All these elements were removed by a Thai historian who was given carte blanche to re-write the script to make it more accurate. In addition, the Thai film board that reviewed the script cut a scene showing King Mongkut camping in a forest alone with Anna and his relationship with her developing into a romance. In the end, several historians worked closely with script writer/producer Andy Tennant to improve the script.

Auditions and Casting

Chow Yun Fat was the first Asian actor to be cast in a movie adaptation about the King of Siam. If the producers had decided to remake "The King and I" as a musical, Yun Fat "would have advised them to use Andy Lau or Aaron Kwok, they'd be far more practical in a musical." 1 Although the actor has released a CD before, he admits that it was "awful, it's awful, it's awful, awwwful!!... I don't think they printed too many." 2

Jodie Foster's reported $15 million salary for the movie was her largest paycheck to date, and placed her in the leading with Julia Roberts as Hollywood's highest-paid actresses.

On Location

The choice to shoot in Malaysia was not by chance. Twentieth Century Fox submitted a number of proposals to film "Anna and the King" in Thailand, and went back and forth in negotiations about the script. After exchanging several drafts of the script in both English and Thai, the Thai government concluded that the overall image of the story was still considered "lese majeste" and offensive to the royals. In particular, the country's film review board decided that the movie misrepresented certain historical and cultural aspects, and that it would reflect poorly on King Rama IV and King Rama V. (Such concerns from the Thai were not necessarily new. The 1956 musical, "The King and I," has been banned in Thailand since its release.) Film board vice president Prasit Damrongchai told the Bangkok Post: "With a script like this, Thailand has already been defamed without an edit. If the company agrees to change the offensive parts of the script, we'll consider it." 3

Fox Entertainment executive, M.R. Malin also refused to bend: "Basically, this is a comedy. If everything is changed, it's going to be documentary and not fun." 4 Mike Moder, another Fox executive, ultimately decided to cease negotiations: "My message to Thailand is goodbye. I wrote letters and never received replies, and I came halfway around the world and never met anyone. How much more co-operative can we be? We came for a week and we got snuffed." 5

A section of Penang's heritage enclave in Armenian Street, home to barber shops and old trades, was transformed into a thriving marketplace in 19th century Bangkok outside the Palace of King Mongkut. A huge facade of the palace gate was erected near the Yap Temple, and the production crew placed marketwares such as birdcages, clogs, baskets, wooden crates with Siamese writings, and vegetables along the street. Building facades that are conspicuously Malaysian were also cleverly camouflaged or concealed with bamboo blinds and covers, while some walls were plastered with sepia-coloured advertisements from olden Bangkok for added authenticity. A majestic 30m-long Siamese junk was docked there, while an imposing fort (made of plywood and plaster) formed an impressive backdrop.

Location manager Robin Hollister recalls that although the eventual airtime for the 11-day shoot in Penang would only last several minutes, the scene was important to set the mood for the entire film: "This is the opening scene where Anna Leonowens first arrived at the Bangkok harbour and it must capture her confusion upon entering a foreign land that is crowded with people and animals." 6

The opening scene involved over 1,300 extras! The extras often worked 14-hour days, assembling at 5:30 in the morning and toiling through the afternoon heat, often clad in nothing more than loincloths, sandals and sarongs. Excited to be in a Hollywood production, the cast of extras included the son of a Member of Parliament.

Animal consultant Rona Brown was brought into the shoot to oversee that the 12 elephants, two oxen, six goats and 12 chickens transported from Coronation Camp to Cheah Kongsi were cared for properly, as well to choreograph their movements: "We [had] a briefing [on two occasions] to decide where the animals would enter the scene." 7

A native of Hong Kong, actor Chow Yun Fat remarks of learning to master both English and Thai for the movie: "I was lucky that Andy Tennant changed a lot of the dialogue. The original draft had language the way Rex Harrison speaks, talking in old Oxford English, it was almost like Shakespeare, but Andy modernized it. Every single articulation he wanted as clear as possible. We had some problems but every sentence worked I think... Some of the substance of English words, I just don't understand at all because the culture's so strange to me. So once I memorize a line, I just try to use my imagination, then simply say it. That's so different in Hong Kong when I'm using my own mother language, I can treat the line in one thousand different ways, with many different reactions. But when I'm speaking English, it's very hard to understand the substance of the language you're speaking. This is still a big barrier for me and it is for a lot of foreign actors." 8

During the shoot, Penang's locals clamored to get a look at the Hong Kong superstar, as well as Hong Kong actor Kenneth Tsang (who played a judge) and Chinese actress Bai Ling (Princess Tuptim, one of the king's concubines). When Yun Fat showed up at Armenian Street on the first day of filming, fans went wild and tried to mob him. Yun Fat was reportedly overzealously guarded by his Singaporean wife, Jasmine Tan.

The crowds were far less enthusiastic about Jodie Foster, one of Hollywood's finest actresses. The local paparazzi asked "Jodie who?" and the majority of extras who sweated it out during filming with the leading lady thought her name was "Julie" or "Judy." Extra Lim Ah Boh remarks: "We were more interested to see Chow Yun-Fat and Bai Ling than the Western stars, whoever they are." 9 Another extra, Goh Chit Hooi, gushed like a schoolgirl when talking about her hero Yun Fat: "I grew up idolising a lot of Chinese film stars and I like Chow Yun Fat because his acting is simply superb." 10

To keep his royal costumes under wraps as much as possible, Yun Fat often went into a makeup truck between takes. He also often wore a red robe to hide his royal garb.

Of all the stars, Bai Ling, who shaved her head for her role, was the most approachable to fans and the press. The 27-year-old actress even went on an adventurous night out with several pressmen to eat bak kut teh, went hunting for a pirated VCD of her earlier movie, "Red Corner" (co-starring Richard Gere) and visited the Kek Lok Si Temple in Air Itam. Her warm personality won her many new fans, including a group of British tourists who met her at a beach hotel in Penang. Tourist Heany Ronald, 59, was charmed by Ling's friendliness that he told the press: "I find her interesting and very approachable which is very good for her image." 11

A number of accidents occurred on the set. A few days into filming, Foster fell and bruised her ribs. A week later she twisted her ankle, delaying filming for a few days. A young boy on the set was almost crushed by an elephant. Director Andy Tennant broke his hand when a metal clamp fell on it and Ling broke her nose during a boat ride. A worker plunged off a hotel balcony, splitting his head, and an assistant was nearly strangled to death by a boa constrictor. After the producers called in a priest to perform a cleansing ritual, two horses fell off a cliff. A second priest arrived later to perform the same blessing. Unfortunately, while one blessing is a charm, two are considered bad luck... needless to say, a third horse fell off the cliff shortly thereafter.

Relationships On and Off the Set

Of his co-star Jodie Foster, Chow Yun Fat remarks that she helped him with mastering his lines, "particularly with the dialogue and her having to affect an accent as well. She kept telling me simpler ways to say words in scenes and that made things a lot quicker. Off and on camera she was terrific in every way." 12 The two were reportedly often seen talking and joking around on the set.

Film Stills

Publicity Poses

Behind the Scenes and Candid Photos

Desktop Wallpapers

Footnotes: 1. Stephen Short, "Chow Yun-Fat Interview," Time Asia (December 1999). 2. Id. 3. Uamdao Noikorn, "Board Rejects Second Draft Script of Anna and the King," Bangkok Post (November 10, 1998). 4. Id. 5. "Movie Moguls Pull Plug on Film Here," Bangkok Post (November 14, 1998). 6. Unknown source; citation pending. 7. Unknown source; citation pending. 8. Short, supra. 9. Choong Kwee Kim, "Darlings on the Set," The Star (March 23, 1999). 10. Id. 11. Id. 12. Short, supra.