‘Anna’ still Thai’d up by Siam censors

Queen has viewed pic, noted two scenes that need editing

BANGKOK, Thailand — The government’s Censor Board will decide Wednesday whether to allow 20th Century Fox to distribute “Anna and the King” in Thailand.

In December 1998, producers Lawrence Bender and Ed Elbert requested permission from the Thai Public Relations Office to film in Thailand. At that time, scripts for the film were not approved by the film censor panel, which cited “historical inaccuracies” and disrespect to the Thai royal family.

Malaysian move

The production subsequently filmed in neighboring Malaysia.

The pic, based loosely on Margaret Landon’s 1944 book “Anna and the King of Siam,” recounts the experiences of British governess Anna Leonowens, whom King Mongkut hired in the mid-1800s to teach his children.

The 1956 pic “The King and I,” based on the Broadway tuner and starring Yul Brynner, was never released in Thailand because of similar concerns of the censors.

The decision to study the Censor Board ruling and review the movie for release comes after acclaimed Thai film director Prince Chatri Chalerm Yugala, a member of the royal family, submitted a copy of the new release to the royal household for viewing.

Reports, confirmed by the Public Relations Office, stated that Queen Sirikit viewed the movie and noted only two scenes that needed editing.

“We know it was sent to (the queen), but even with her comments, the decision to approve must be made by common law,” said Kanittha Chitprakorb, a public relations officer.

On Dec. 20, 20th Century Fox submitted documentation, including a required Thai translation of the movie script, to the censor panel for distribution consideration.

Panel efforts applauded

“We have nothing but praise for the Censor Board, as they are taking a very fair stance,” said Henry Tran, managing director of 20th Century Fox, Thailand. “They are going beyond their normal membership to broaden input before a decision is made.”

But at the same time that Fox requested the review, the Public Relations Office made available a Thai-language “white book” explaining the background and rationale for its decision to ban production of the movie in Thailand.

Even if the movie is released in Thailand, local exhibitors, who saw the movie at a recent CineAsia screening held in Hong Kong, are not sure it will do well at the box office.

“Yes, the curiosity factor will bring Thais to see the movie,” said one exhibitor who asked not to be named, “but after that … after all the hoopla, they will see it for what it is: just a movie.”

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