Director Andy Tennant and screenwriters Steve Meerson and Peter Krikes have opened up the brutal turbulence that has always lurked around the story's edges, yet can't compensate for the fact that Foster and action star Chow Yun Fat have no real sparks between them. Foster is as smart and solid as ever, but -- and I may be stepping on a few toes here -- feminine propriety has never been her trademark, and even with the rethinking done in this version, it's still an obvious requirement for her role as a widowed schoolmistress and mother. Romantic sentiment simply does not become a Foster heroine (sure, some of us bought into her girlish turn in Sommersby, but what else are you gonna do when they're about to hang Richard Gere?). Fat is interesting, and he wisely avoids a case of the cutes with his complex king (though he's occasionally unintelligible); it's just that there's nothing here that knocks you in the spine the way that Kerr/Brynner waltz does in the 1956 film.
The movie does have an epic sweep, which is reverently captured by Caleb Deschanel's cinematography, and stirs up some involvement in the melodrama of a troubled, hopeful nation. The most affecting work, however, comes from Bai Ling as the doomed romantic concubine Tuptim: This is the first movie version in which her fate feels more crucial than the protagonists'. Ultimately, Anna and the King is a diverting spectacle without an engaging heart.