Anna and the Ban

Thailand has been unhappy with Hollywood movies before, but the Dec. 28 ban of Anna and the King provoked controversy before and after its release.

Bangkok’s independent The Nation reported Dec. 22 that efforts to make the retelling of The King and I more acceptable to Thai censors included a personal plea to the royal family from Hong Kong actor Chow Yun-fat, who learned his lines in Thai to play King Mongkut.

Additionally, the director, Andy Tennant, also changed the script after consulting the national censors, but the film was banned as disrespectful to the monarchy. The King and I was similarly banned in 1956.

Censorship officials told The Nation (Dec. 23) that releasing the movie “might constitute an offense against His Majesty the King and establish a new standard allowing foreigners to alter the history of the Thai monarchy for entertainment purposes.”

But the debate attracted regional attention, as the Sydney Morning Herald’s correspondent reported (Dec. 8): “Thais as well as foreigners were ‘arguing the merits’ of the film as it nears worldwide release.”

A leading Thai film critic wrote in The Nation (Dec. 29)  that “even a Thai audience could be mesmerized during the first one-third of the film.” But the head of the censorship committee was quoted in the same issue saying that “The film, from the beginning to the end, distorts history, which could cause unrest in our society.”

The independent Bangkok Post reported Jan. 7 that a female student, 24, and a 25-year-old man caught with pirated video compact discs of the film were charged with handling pirated goods, and might face the charge of lèse majesté, which could bring a year’s imprisonment.