November 10, 1998

Thailand to film crew: No thanks

BANGKOK -- Jodie Foster may never get a chance to whistle a happy tune in Thailand as the starchy English governess in a new film version of the story that inspired the musical The King and I.

The country's Film Board refused yesterday to let 20th Century Fox film its Anna and the King on location in Thailand, saying it insulted the nation's revered King Mongkut, portraying him as a buffoon.

The board said script revisions submitted by Fox did not go far enough in changing what it insists are historical inaccuracies about Mongkut, the 19th-century ruler of the country then known as Siam.

In Thailand, where insulting the monarchy is punishable by 3 to 15 years in prison, Mongkut is revered as a Buddhist scholar and linguist who helped bring his country into the modern era.

The film, starring Foster and Hong Kong star Chow Yun Fat, is a remake of the 1946 film Anna and the King of Siam, starring Rex Harrison and Irene Dunne.

It later became a Broadway musical and 1956 film, The King and I, making Yul Brynner a major star with his memorable waltz scene with Deborah Kerr, as Anna, to the strains of "Shall We Dance." The musical version also created such hits as " I Whistle a Happy Tune" and "Hello Young Lovers."

Fox said it could not wait much longer and would make a decision by Friday whether to drop Thailand and shoot the location scenes in neighboring Malaysia instead.