The Tribune - Spectrum

Sunday, July 9, 2000
Wide Angle

An entertaining clash of cultures
By Ervell E. Menezes

AFTER the quick release of some of the Oscar-winning films (Girl, Interrupted and American Beauty), Hollywood continues with its pot-boilers. Hurricane is a film, that sounds promising, but that has yet to come. Anna and the King is updated and contemporary but a wee bit too long and Sleepy Hollow is just what it says, both sleepy and hollow and a blemish on director Tim Burton who in the past has distinguished himself in off-beat films like Edward Scissorhands (also with Johnny Depp) and Beetlejuice, also spoofing with ghosts.

But first to Anna and the King and one cannot but connect it with the 1956 musical with Deborah Kerr and Yul Brynner in it and this was a remake of the 1946 Anna and the King of Siam starring Rex Harrison and Linda Darnell. In the new film Jodie Foster plays Anna Leonowens, and Englishwoman hired by the King Mongkut (Chow Yun-Fat) of Siam to teach his 50-odd children.

A scene from Sleepy Hollow"It is a story of East meets West and West meets East and the prejudices that each person brings to the table. Anna arrives in Siam believing that the King is sa barbarian. The King, on the other hand, thinks she represents a people that have done nothing but invade countries and then act like the British way is the only way. But by the end of the story they come to appreciate their differences, even though it means that the places they come from can’t necessarily be reconciled," says Jodie Foster eruditely.

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Naturally, it shows how the other half of the world lives and that people themselves are good but it is their governments and their policies that lead to all the trouble. And director Andy Tenani infuses the story with a nowness that is interesting though the British were not quite happy with the way they were projected. The voice-over also help to imbue the subject with an element of mysticism. "She was the first Englishwoman I had met," is what the King says.

What follows is a clash of cultures. Firstly, the English teacher is addressed as "Sir," because in Siam women don’t count. This is a slight not taken easily by the spunky British madam. More clashes follow and the ego plays no small part but with each passing clash comes an understanding and there is an intellectual honesty that is admirable.

May be director Tenant’s research was so intense that he wouldn’t leave out certain incidents. His penchant for epics (like Doctor Zhivago and Braverheart) was another handicap. But in Jodie Foster he has just the right person to play the role and she wastes no time getting to the crux of the matter. Chow Yun-Fat as the King is also an admirable foil. Not only does he exhibit an Oriental dignity but he isn’t afraid to call a spade a spade. Bai Long, who was seen to great advantage opposite Richard Gere in Red Corner, does reasonably well as the queen but the other characters flit in and out of scenes more or less innocuously though the children are really cute.

Caleb Deschanel’s cinematography is caressing and those who’ve seen Fly Away Home will not be surprises. As for director Tenant, this is an improvement on his Ever After handling. What he needs to do is terse editing and better selectivity which would have made a world of a difference.

No, I won’t compare it to the 1956 Walter Lang musical. This is more down to earth and despite its minor blemishes it is a film worth watching. But I can’t say the same thing about Sleepy Hollow. And here I think Tim Burton shuttles between horror and comedy and tries to be different only for the sake of being different. The result is Sleepy Hollow falls between so many stools it is hard to count them. If you laugh more than thrice right through the film you should consider yourself lucky.

When New York constable Ichabod Crane (Johnny Depp), because of his obsession for forensic evidence to sole murder mysteries, is banished from New York to a northern village known as sleepy Hollow, he finds himself taking upon the Sherlock Holmes role in the Case of the Headless Horsemen.

If the film has one asset, it is the tasteful sets (for which it won a Best Art Director Oscar), but all the goings-on and the contrived horror do not exactly go well with the audience. Heads roll and keep on rolling, almost sadistically. Everything is topsy-turvy and if director Burton finds it funny that’s his problem. Anyway Sleepy Hollow is not my kind of entertainment. Before the halfway mark all you wait for is the end, and believe you met, it is a long time coming.