The film was directed by Andy Tennant and stars Jodie Foster and Chow Yun-fat. It was mostly shot in Malaysia, particularly in the Penang, Ipoh and Langkawi region. It was an Academy Award nominee in 1999 for Best Art Direction and Best Costume Design.
Anna Leonowens (Jodie Foster) is a British widow who has come to Siam with her son Louis (Tom Felton) to teach English to the dozens of children of King Mongkut (Chow Yun-fat). She is a strong-willed, intelligent, valiant and benevolent woman for her time, and this pleases the King. Mongkut wants to modernize Siam, thinking this will help his country resist colonialism and protect the ancient traditions that give Siam its identity. Mongkut and Anna discuss differences between Eastern and Western love, but he dismisses the notion that a man can be happy with only one wife. In order to win favors through Britain's ambassadors, Mongkut orders a sumptuous reception and appoints Anna to organize it. During the reception, the King spars graciously and wittily with Sir Mycroft Kincaid (Bill Stewart), of the East India Company. The Europeans express their beliefs that Siam is a superstitious, backward nation. Mongkut dances with Anna at the reception.
Anna is enchanted by the royal children, particularly Princess Fa-Ying (Melissa Campbell). The little girl adores the playful monkeys who live in the royal garden's trees. When Fa-Ying falls sick with cholera, Anna is summoned to her chambers to say goodbye. She gets there just as Fa-Ying dies in King Mongkut's arms, and the two mourn together. Mongkut later finds that one of the monkeys "borrowed" his glasses as his daughter used to do. He finds comfort for his grief in his belief in reincarnation, with a notion that Fa-ying might be reborn as one of her beloved animals. Lady Tuptim (Bai Ling), the King's newest concubine, was already engaged to marry another man, Khun Phra Balat (Sean Ghazi), when she was brought to court. Mongkut is kind to her, but Tuptim yearns for her true love. She disguises herself as a young man and runs away, joining the monastery where her former fiancé lives. She is tracked down, returned to the palace, and put on trial where she is caned. Anna, unable to bear the sight, tries to prevent the execution and is forcibly removed from the court. Her outburst prevents Mongkut from showing clemency, because he cannot be seen as beholden to her, though he feels ashamed. Tuptim and Balat are beheaded publicly.
Siam is under siege from what appears to be a British-funded coup d'état against King Mongkut, using Burmese soldiers. Mongkut sends his brother Prince Chaofa (Kay Siu Lim) and military advisor General Alak (Randall Duk Kim) and their troops to investigate. However, it turns out Alak is really the man behind the coup, and he poisons the regiment and kills Chaofa. Alak then flees into Burma, where he summons and readies troops to invade Siam, kill King Mongkut and all his children as revenge since he blames him for his family's death. Mongkut's army is too far from the palace to engage the rebels, so he creates a ruse - that a white elephant has been spotted, and the court must go to see it. This allows him to flee the palace with his children and wives, and give his armies time to reach them. Anna returns to help Mongkut, since her presence in his entourage will give credence to the tale about the white elephant. Mongkut plans to take his family to a monastery where he spent part of his life. Halfway through the journey they see Alak's army in the distance and realize they can't outrun him. Mongkut and his soldiers set explosives on a wooden bridge high above a canyon floor as Alak and his army approach. Mongkut orders his "army" to stay back and rides to the bridge with only two soldiers. Alak, at the head of his army, confronts Mongkut on the bridge.
Anna and Louis create a brilliant deception from their hiding spot in the forest. Louis uses his horn to replicate the sound of a bugle charge, as Anna "attacks" the area with harmless fireworks. The Burmese, believing the King has brought British soldiers, panic and retreat. Alak's attempt to recall and regroup his troops fails. Alak stands alone, but Mongkut refuses to kill him, saying that Alak will have to live with his shame. As Mongkut turns to ride back to Siam, Alak grabs his gun and aims at his back, but one of Mongkut's guards detonates the explosives. The bridge and Alak are blown to pieces.
At the end of the film, Mongkut has one last dance with Anna before she leaves Siam. He tells her that now he understands why a man can be content with only one woman. A voice-over tells viewers that Chulalongkorn became king after his father's death. Chulalongkorn abolished slavery and instituted religious freedom with the help of his father's 'vision'.Jodie Foster as Anna Leonowens
Chow Yun-Fat as King Mongkut
Bai Ling as Tuptim
Tom Felton as Louis T. Leonowens
Randall Duk Kim as General Alak
Kay Siu Lim as Prince Chaofa, King Mongkut's Brother
Melissa Campbell as Princess Fa-Ying
Deanna Yusoff as Queen Thiang
Geoffrey Palmer as Lord John Bradley
Anne Firbank as Lady Bradley
Bill Stewart as Mycroft Kincaid, East India Trading Co.
Sean Ghazi as Khun Phra Balat
Syed Alwi as The Kralahome, Prime Minister
Ramli Hassan as King Chulalongkorn
Keith Chin as Prince Chulalongkorn
Alif Silpachai as Chulalongkorn's brother
Kenneth Tsang as Justice Phya Phrom
Shantini Venugopal as the nanny
Goh Yi Wai as Mongkut's daughter
Anna and the King received mixed reviews. On Rotten Tomatoes, it holds a 51% rating, based on 98 reviews, with the consensus stating that "Beautiful cinematography can't prevent Anna and the King from being boring and overly lengthy." On a $92 million budget, the film grossed $113,996,937, making the film a modest financial success.
This story takes place during the time of the American Civil War (1861-1865); however, the children sang the song "Daisy, Daisy", which was published in 1892.
After reviewing the script, even after changes were made to try to satisfy them, the Thai government did not allow the film-makers to film in Thailand. The Thai authorities did not permit the film to be distributed in Thailand due to scenes that they construed as a disrespectful and historically inaccurate depiction of King Mongkut. Tony Dabbs, writing an opinion piece for the Thai newspaper The Nation, criticized the film ban.