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This formula has resulted in some undeniably entertaining pictures, both by Disney and by competing studios. But the downside is that feature animation, a medium that should give free rein to the imagination -- and not be exclusively the province of kiddie audiences -- is now straitjacketed by the need to include stuff that can be put into happy meals.

In fairness to the new King and I and its alterations, it should be noted that the 1956 film, with Yul Brynner and Deborah Kerr in the respective title roles, was hardly an unadulterated account of the story. The material has a complex lineage -- it's based on a Broadway musical, which, like the 1946 nonmusical film with Rex Harrison and Irene Dunne, was based on Margaret Landon's 1943 book Anna and the King of Siam. This work, in turn, was adapted from The English Governess at the Siamese Court, the published diaries of a Welsh widow named Anna Leonowens who spent the mid-1860s as tutor to the numerous offspring of Siam's King Mongkut. Each generation of the story has softened up its harsh edges. The animated version can't really be blamed too vigorously, I suppose, for following suit.

In further fairness, it should also be noted that the kids with whom I saw this King and I did seem to enjoy it, and that in the lobby after the screening two boys of about 8 or 9 could be seen trying to learn to dance, like the King. That civilizing influence should count for something.

For adults, the film does, at least, offer up most of the lovely, schmaltzy Rodgers-and-Hammerstein score, competently sung from journeyman lungs belonging to the likes of Christiane Noll and Martin Vidnovic. Even here, though, the pleasure comes with a wearying price tag -- the numbers are more or less used as background, while elaborate, frantic slapstick is kept buzzing in the foreground to keep the kids from squirming too much.

During "A Puzzlement," for instance, while the King sings his heart out to Buddha, the Kralahome's magic animates the demonic statues in the temple behind the King's back. The payoff to this deranged gag is that at the end of the number, the King, his soul unburdened, sighs with contentment, while his panther collapses next to him, exhausted from desperately trying to ward off the evil to which the King was oblivious.

We in the audience can empathize with the panther -- we've been trying to ward off this busy, pointless distraction so we could listen to the song.

Opens March 19.
-- M.V. Moorhead

THE CORRUPTER
Directed by James Foley

The Corruptor should come as something of a relief to fans of Hong Kong superstar Chow Yun-Fat who were mostly disappointed with last year's The Replacement Killers, Chow's American screen debut. Among the producers of that action thriller was John Woo, who in the '80s and early '90s had directed five brilliant films starring Chow that had made both men dominant figures in Hong Kong cinema. Replacement Killers director Antoine Fuqua did a fairly good job of mimicking the surface aspects of Woo's style but missed its crucial emotional underpinnings.

Even more to the point, the film inexplicably seemed designed to straitjacket Chow. Because two of his greatest virtues are his nonchalant charm and his extraordinary versatility, the actor is frequently and not inaccurately characterized as the Asian Cary Grant. But The Replacement Killers allowed him to display neither of his star qualities: His grim, one-note role never even allowed him to crack a smile.

The Corruptor is not a great film, but at least it allows Chow a little room to strut his stuff. Chow stars as Nick Chen, a seemingly heroic member of the NYPD's Asian Gang Unit. But we quickly learn that Chen is more than a little compromised: He appears less concerned with eradicating gangs than with eradicating rivals to the gang of Uncle Benny (Kim Chan), to whom he owes some kind of fealty.

Chen maintains cool control of his turf until headquarters inexplicably assigns Danny Wallace (Mark Wahlberg), a young white cop, to be his partner. Wallace is instantly the object of much ribbing and distrust among the otherwise all-Asian crew; his desire to work in Chinatown is seen as part of the same sort of fetish for Oriental exotica that infected so many colonial Brits.

Slowly but surely, Chen and Wallace begin to earn each other's trust and to form the classic partners' bond. And no sooner does Danny begin to realize the extent of Chen's compromised ethics than Chen and the audience learn that Danny has his own problem pushing him toward corruption -- a drunken father (Brian Cox) with debts to bookies.

Director James Foley has a stylish, if inconsistent, filmography -- from At Close Range and After Dark, My Sweet at one end to the Madonna vehicle Who's That Girl? at the other. The noir setting and subject matter of The Corruptor clearly belong to the milieu and style in which Foley does his best work, but he can't seem to straighten out the kinks and complications of Robert Pucci's muddled script.

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