Fewer stories of a Western encounter with the "Other" have been more popular than that of the English governess Anna Leonowens and King Mongkut (Rama IV) of Siam, now Thailand. The fascination began with the two books written by Anna herself, The English Governess at the Siamese Court and The Romance of the Harem, published in 1870 and 1873, respectively. Her story did not become famous, however, until Margaret Landon condensed the two books into the best-selling Anna and the King of Siam in 1944 (Kim 2). Two years later, the book was made into a movie starring Irene Dunne and Rex Harrison then a Broadway production as a musical play by Rodgers and Hammerstein with Gertrude Lawrence as Anna and Yul Brynner as the king. The most famous adaptation of the story was the 1956 Hollywood film entitled The King and I, with Deborah Kerr as the English school teacher opposite Brynner. It raised a scandal in Thailand for its ridiculous representation of King Mongkut, one of Thailand's national heroes, and was consequently banned there. Nearly a half-century later in 1999, Twentieth Century Fox decided to revive Anna Leonowens' story once again, supposedly determined this time, however, to give an accurate portrayal of Siam and its monarch. Although Anna and the King corrects many of the earlier faults of The King and I and even adds outright jibes at imperialism and the attitudes of British colonizers, it is still infused with the idea of the romanticized encounter with the exotic "Other" and displays evidence of newer, more insidious forms of colonialism that continue to pervade Western-dominated institutions like the media.
[...] Despite all these conscious efforts to point out the evils of colonialism, Anna and the King is filled with just as much prejudice and exoticism as its predecessors and the making of the movie demonstrates newer forms of colonialism present in today's world. Of the Buddhist monk chants—which are at least accurate this time—Louis remarks: sounds like we're living in a beehive.” The princess is also described as a “monkey girl” and admittedly in an endearing way that could be found in a child of any origin; this still plays to racist stereotypes, however, and was an invention of the script-writers, not an actual characterization of the Princess Fa-Ying. [...]
[...] The King and I has been banned in Thailand since its release for its complete misrepresentation of King Mongkut and the Siamese people and culture. Needless to say, when Twentieth-Century Fox approached the Thai government about shooting a remake of the film, officials were wary. After five major revisions of the script and still two rejections from the National Film Board, the Hollywood crew turned to neighboring Malaysia to film Anna and the King (Tripathi, King and 7-8). Despite Fox's intent to “ensure the cultural and historical accuracy requested by the local government” (Tripathi, “Fact and Fanciful Fiction,” 10) by employing Thai consulters and “portray the talent and vision of King Rama IV (“Getting to Know the resulting production was still banned by the Thai censorship board with a very long list of valid reasons for their decision. [...]
[...] In his solo, a Puzzlement,” the king is shown to have insight for foreign affairs: Allies are strong with power to protect me/ Might they not protect me out of house and yet he lacks etiquette when receiving the British ambassador and company, shaking their hands awkwardly and immediately offering them cigars inappropriately—at which the diplomats roll their eyes—then showing ignorance and “barbarous” manners at dinner by tying his napkin around his neck and shouting at everyone, eat, Toward the end of the movie, Anna remarks to her son, Louis, many ways he is just as young as as if the king had the intellectual and emotional maturity of a ten-year-old boy. [...]
[...] During this time, it is believed she only met the king once and she is mentioned only briefly in his diaries (Elmore hardly an adequate basis for romance, not to mention the fact that the king was 58 to Anna's 27 when she arrived. After leaving Siam to settle in Canada with her daughter, Anna proceeded to write her accounts—which writer Manote Tripathi describes as historical fiction laced with the occasional fact King and lecture about her travels as a way of bringing in much-needed money. [...]
[...] “Thailand's Modernizing Monarchs.” History Today. July 2000: 10-17. OCLC FirstSearch. WilsonSelectPlus. American Univ. of Paris Comp. Lab., Paris Feb < http://newfirstsearch.uk.oclc.org>. Taylor, David. “Even as a Bust, the Real King of Siam Turns Out to be a More Complex Chap Than the Bald-headed Caricature Made Famous by Yul Brynner and Others.” Smithsonian. Apr. 1997: 22. OCLC FirstSearch. WilsonSelectPlus. American Univ. of Paris Comp. Lab., Paris Feb < http://newfirstsearch.uk.oclc.org>. The King and I. Based on the musical by Rodgers and Hammerstein. Screenplay by Ernest Lehman. [...]
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