Top 5……Films Set In Myanmar (Burma)

Myanmar (formerly Burma) will always have a special place in my heart as it’s where I proposed on Christmas Day one year ago. However, choosing a ring wasn’t the only preparation I did ahead of the trip as I also worked my way through a countless number of movies set in the country which has long suffered from internal conflict.

These struggles completely dominate almost all films set in Myanmar and due to the slight relaxation of control by their government the country is relatively calm these days but watching these films still doesn’t do too much to put one’s mind at ease!!

1. The Lady (2011) – Aung San Suu Kyi was released from house arrest in November 2010 whilst director Luc Besson was actually working on this biopic about the icon starring Michelle Yeoh. They were filming in Bangkok on a six week shoot at the time which was where most of the Myanmar scenes were filmed. Suu Kyi’s lakeside mansion outside Rangoon was recreated to exact dimensions in Thailand in a setting identical to the real house.

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Besson scouted locations himself in Myanmar and even filmed in disguise at landmarks such as the golden pagoda (Uppatasanti) and the aerial shots of the river were done on the sly via a rented helicopter crossing the border from Thailand to Burma.

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2. Beyond Rangoon (1995) – Depicting the events during the 8888 Uprising in 1988. Its main star Patricia Arquette loses her passport at a political rally and, left to her own devices, she gets caught up in a fight for democracy as she and leader U Aung Ko travel through Burma as they try to escape to Thailand. The film, which has an emotional score by Hans Zimmer, was mostly shot in Malaysia with some scenes captured in Thailand. You can see it here

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3. Rambo (2008) – Sly Stallone mumbled his way through war torn Burma to rescue a group of Christian aid workers in the long awaited (20 years!) follow up to ‘Rambo III.’ Burma is even more of a bloodbath than generalisations purvey as Rambo and a few cronies rampage their way through the whole country taking out the lot of them almost single handedly. Among his victims are a group of pirates and an entire squad of Burmese army soldiers whom he shoots with a jeep-mounted machine gun. Stallone justified this in a press conference by saying the violence in the film was to draw attention to the ongoing problems in the country.

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4. Largo Winch II (2011) – The original title for what became more commonly known as ‘The Burma Conspiracy‘ starring Tomer Sisley back as the title character alongside a much under-used Sharon Stone. Burma is only really seen in flashback scenes from a few years before and naturally it’s not very nice stuff. I haven’t seen the original Largo Winch film so sadly can’t compare them in any way but this one, though a bit disjointed at times, was quite an entertaining watch and Largo’s scenes with Malunaï (played by a Thai actress) were particularly moving at times.

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5. Stealth (2005) – This poor-mans ‘Top Gun‘ absolutely bombed at the box office and shows one scene quite early on in the film involving an aircraft bombing of a high-rise building in nighttime Rangoon.

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You can read about my own trip to Yangon here

Top 5……Movies Made In Malaysia

The Malaysia tourism board launched a largely successful worldwide marketing campaign back in 1999 called “Malaysia, Truly Asia” but when it comes to appearances in movies, this south-east Asian country has rarely played true to itself and has instead filled in for other countries on the rare occasions production has moved there. It’s a shame that Malaysia hasn’t been given more time on the big screen but watching these films will still showcase the splendour and beauty of this exotic country and give (some) movie fans a thirst for wanting to feel the aura of the locations where the films were shot.

Here, in no particular order, is the Top 5……movies made in Malaysia

1. Entrapment (1999) – Starring Sean Connery and Catherine Zeta Jones, this is perhaps the most famous western production to have been made (and set!) in Malaysia. feature some beautiful shots of Malaysia. The Petronas Twin Towers in Kuala Lumpur was heavily featured in the most action-packed scenes in the movie. The Melaka River can also be seen in the movie. However, this movie did manage to annoy some Malaysian movie fans with its depiction of distances between famous landmarks. More details here

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2. The Sleeping Dictionary (2003) – Set in the 1930’s, this film tells the story of a British man (Hugh Dancy) who learns the local language and culture from his sleeping dictionary played by Jessica Alba. You can see it here. The majority of shooting was done in Malaysia with Sarawak and Batang Ai the places used in this movie which angered some critics due to its historical inaccuracies such as the White Rajahs actually being in control of the region at that time rather than the British who took over after WWII.

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3. Indochine (1992) – This won the Best Foreign Language award at the Academy Awards in 1992 and it follows the lives of French plantation owner Élaine, her adopted daughter, Camille and her lover, Jean Baptiste. Despite taking place in Vietnam, a lot of the film was shot in Malaysia with Penang, Sham Alam, and Ipoh being used to recreate the French colonial era. Of course temporary sets were also built to replicate the 1930’s period.

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4. Anna & The King (1999)  – Of course this story is ‘set’ in Thailand but due to the protests of historical inaccuracy from the Thai Film Board it had to be filmed in Malaysia. Protracted negotiations and rewrites resulted in 20th Century Fox finally moving the production, starring Jodie Foster and Chow Yun Fat, to the likes of Penang (Bangkok harbour and some street scenes), Ipoh, Parit, Langkawi and Selangor. More details here

Malaysia: Penang Pt II - 'Anna & The King' Filming Locations Malaysia: Penang Pt II - 'Anna & The King' Filming Locations

5. Beyond Rangoon (1995) – Depicting the events during the 8888 Uprising in 1988.You can see it here. It’s main star Patricia Arquette loses her passport at a political rally and, left to her own devices, she gets caught up in a fight for democracy as she and leader U Aung Ko travel through Burma as they try to escape to Thailand. The film, which has an emotional score by Hans Zimmer, was mostly shot in Malaysia with some scenes captured in Thailand. More details here

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On Screen #3 – Myanmar (Burma)

What I like about doing the research for this On Screen series is finding out how scenes in certain countries are faked and filmed elsewhere or in the studio. Myanmar, or Burma as it was formerly known, is one such country where other countries have almost always had to fill in for this south-east asian country which has long suffered from internal conflict.

These struggles completely dominate almost all TV and films set in Myanmar and due to the slight relaxation of control by their government the country is relatively calm these days but watching these films still doesn’t do too much to put one’s mind at ease!!

Between 1926 and 1962 well over a dozen films were set in Burma as it was called back then. Many of these were set around the time of WWII and whilst I’m not gonna talk about them in this entry I will provide you with the following list:

The Road To Mandalay (1926); Mandalay (1934); The Girl From Mandalay (1936); Burma Convoy (1941); Moon Over Burma (1940); A Yank On The Burma Road (1942); Bombs Over Burma (1942); Rookies In Burma (1943); Burma Victory (1945); Objective Burma (1945); The Purple Rain (1954); Escape To Burma (1955); The Burmese Harp (1956); Never So Few (1959); Yesterday’s Enemy (1959) and Merrills Marauders (1962).

Beyond Rangoon‘ (1995) was watched on YouTube a while back and it depicts events during the 8888 Uprising in 1988. (You can see it here). Its main star Patricia Arquette loses her passport at a political rally and, left to her own devices, she gets caught up in a fight for democracy as she and leader U Aung Ko travel through Burma as they try to escape to Thailand. The film, which has an emotional score by Hans Zimmer, was mostly shot in Malaysia with some scenes captured in Thailand.

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American sci-fi action flop ‘Stealth‘ (2005) absolutely bombed at the cinema’s. This poor-mans ‘Top Gun‘ shows one scene quite early on in the film involving an aircraft bombing of a high-rise building in nighttime Rangoon. IMDb (which is never too reliable for its vague filming locations section) says that Zetland in Sydney, Australia was used as Burma in the film but I really wonder if thats true for it was surely Thailand. In fact the very same site also mentions that the building was actually added by CGI to the west side of the highway leading from downtown Bangkok to Don Muang Airport. Whilst vehicles are driven on the left in Thailand they drive on the other side in Burma after it was changed in a statement of independence in 1970. However, in the aforementioned scene you can see cars being driven on the left!

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In 2008 Sly Stallone mumbled his way through ‘Rambo‘ and indeed through war torn Burma to rescue a group of Christian aid workers in the long awaited (20 years!) follow up to ‘Rambo III.’ Burma is even more of a bloodbath than generalisations purvey as Rambo and a few cronies rampage their way through the whole country taking out the lot of them almost single handedly. Among his victims are a group of pirates and an entire squad of Burmese army soldiers whom he shoots with a jeep-mounted machine gun. Stallone justified this in a press conference by saying the violence in the film was to draw attention to the ongoing problems in the country.

Screen Shot 2013-09-22 at 00.06.34 Screen Shot 2013-09-22 at 00.10.37

Largo Winch II‘ (2011) was the original title for what became more commonly known as ‘The Burma Conspiracy‘ starring Tomer Sisley back as the title character alongside a much under-used Sharon Stone. Burma is only really seen in flashback scenes from a few years before and naturally its not very nice stuff. I haven’t seen the original Largo Winch film so sadly can’t compare them in any way but this one, though a bit disjointed at times, was quite an entertaining watch and Largo’s scenes with Malunaï (played by a Thai actress) were particularly moving at times.

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Personally, I didn’t know too much about Aung San Suu Kyi until her release from house arrest back in November 2010 which was at a time when director Luc Besson was actually working on ‘The Lady‘ starring Michelle Yeoh in the biopic about the icon. They were filming in Bangkok on a six week shoot at the time which was where most of the Myanmar scenes were filmed. Suu Kyi’s lakeside mansion outside Rangoon was recreated to exact dimensions in Thailand in a setting identical to the real house.

Screen Shot 2013-10-02 at 09.34.03 Screen Shot 2013-10-02 at 09.31.46

Besson scouted locations himself in Myanmar and even filmed in disguise at landmarks such as the golden pagoda (Uppatasanti) and the aerial shots of the river were done on the sly via a rented helicopter crossing the border from Thailand to Burma.

Screen Shot 2013-10-02 at 09.16.31 Screen Shot 2013-10-02 at 09.25.50

It Ain’t Half Hot Mum‘ was a BBC TV comedy which ran for 8 series between 1974 and 1981 following the comic adventures of a group of misfits who formed an extremely bad Royal Artillery concert party touring the hot and steamy jungles of Burma entertaining the troops during WWII. It was written by Jimmy Perry and David Croft; the same duo responsible for ‘Dad’s Army‘ (1968-1977) which was also a sitcom set in WWII. It attracted audiences of around 15 million at its peak, but it controversially made jokes about the cultural differences between the Indian, Burmese and Japanese. It attracted audiences of around 15 million at its peak, but it controversially made jokes about the cultural differences between the Indian, Burmese and Japanese. At its peak it managed to attract an audience of 15 million and was very much “of its time” as it controversially made jokes about the cultural differences between Indian, Burmese and Japanese people. It made the news last year when it was announced that it would never be repeated on our screens again as the BBC deemed it too racist for modern society.

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The British Television Location Guide‘ book (2011) by Steve Clark and Shoba Vazirani has a short half page piece about where it was filmed and how it was (quite obviously) faked to look like Burma. Not surprisingly, the majority of filming was confined to the BBC studios but they did venture a bit further south on occasion. Indeed, they went all of about 40 miles south to the tropical climate that is Farnham in Surrey!! A good mix of clever make-up, heavy lighting, rubber plants and fake sweat made it slightly resemble the hot sticky climate of Burma. The first four series were set in India but from series 5 the concert party were posted “up the jungle” to Tin Min in Burma close to the front line.

His shows have featured in both ‘On Screen #1‘ and ‘On Screen #2‘ so far and this will be no exception either for Anthony Bourdain who, having moved to CNN, started off his new TV series in Myanmar. Season 1 episode 1 of ‘Parts Unknown‘ debuted on CNN back in April of this year with the witty, sarcastic and profanity-using American chef/TV personality exploring one of the most fabled areas of Asia with Yangon and Bagan being the places he visited. Finally…. a bit of on screen time devoted to showing the country in a positive light after fifty years of nightmare.

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