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‘Anna’ goes Thai-less to Malaysia

Thais reject filming bid

BANGKOK — The Thai government committee in charge of film production approval announced on Christmas Day the final rejection of a Thai location shoot for Fox’s “Anna and the King,” ending a six-month ordeal for the studio.

Claiming a new script delivered to it was “insufficiently respectful to the Thai monarchy,” the film approval subcommittee rejected the project for a fourth time. Fox, which had all but given up on Thailand anyway, will proceed with shooting in Malaysia in March 1999.

The film, which stars Academy Award winner Jodie Foster and Hong Kong superstar Chow Yun-Fat, tells the story of Anna Leonowens (Foster) an English teacher at the Royal Siamese court during the reign of King Mongkut (1851-68).

Anna Leonowen’s memoir has a storied history on stage and screen. The Rodgers & Hammerstein musical was turned into the 1956 pic “The King and I” starring Yul Brynner, for which he won the best actor Oscar. Film was banned in Thailand because of historical and cultural distortions.

The recent Thai saga began in July, when Fox 2000 execs requested Thai film and television organizers Oriental System of Communication and Research (Oscar) to review a working copy of the “Anna” script.

Royal rejection

Oscar presented the working “Anna” screenplay, penned by Steve Meerson and Peter Krike, to the Royal Thai Palace, which said the script should be presented to the film approval subcommittee. That 30-member body immediately rejected the project, noting that the Royal Palace had already rejected the script.

“What began as a classic case of miscommunication turned into a big deal,” said Oscar rep Supinda Chakrabandu. Fox VP of feature production Mike Moder and Andy Tennant, director of Fox’s “Anna” production team, were denied an audience with the subcommittee.

A revised script was sent to subcommittee VP Prasi Damrongchai in October. In letters accompanying the script, the execs wrote that the film “will in no way defame, demean, or offend the memory of His Majesty King Mongkut or his people.”

Chakrabandu then assigned local screenwriter Stanley Harper to revise the script to appease the subcommittee. “But I knew (Fox) had already decided to go to Malaysia,” said Harper. “I saw a model of the planned Malaysian studio.”

On Dec. 9 the script was again submitted to the subcommitee, which requested immediate confirmation of Fox’s commitment to film in Thailand. When Fox did not respond, the final rejection was announced.

“Now that the production has gone to Malaysia, not only does the country lose … 800 million baht ($23 million), we lose the ability to portray a positive image of Thailand to the world,” Chakrabandhu said.

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