Wednesday, 6 February 2008

Rambo kicks some despotic Burmese butt

So who, I wonder, is gonna save Burma from those mean green generals? The refugees and political exiles in Chiang Mai or camped along the Thai-Burma border can’t. Despite the well-meaning but obsequious envoys (gushing gullible Gambari, you suck!), the citing of clause no.38948bz-9 of such-and-such non-binding Human Rights Charter, the UN and its member states can’t (or rather won’t). Not even Aung San Suu Kyi, bless her elegant silk longi, can lend a hand in helping free the nation from the curse of military dictatorship. But what about rippling muscles, a sweaty headband, a ton of ammo and brusque fighting talk – i.e. Stallone and his new Rambo film? Well, as it happens maybe,.. hopefully:

Burmese officials have banned even pirated copies of the new Rambo movie, and Hollywood's Sylvester Stallone says he'd love to go to Rangoon and confront the junta face to face.

"These incredibly brave people have found, kind of a voice, in a very odd way, in American cinema... They've actually used some of the film's quotes as rallying points," said Stallone, 61, in a telephone interview with the Reuters news agency.

"That, to me, is the one of the proudest moments I've ever had in film," he told Reuters. Police in Burma have given market sellers strict orders not to sell pirated copies of the flick.

Just two weeks into its commercial release (panned by most US critics, highly rated by audiences in the US), the movie is available in black-market editions under the counter in markets in Rangoon and towns along the Thai border.

In the movie, ageing war veteran John Rambo, played by Stallone, ventures into Burma to rescue a group of Christian aid workers who were kidnapped by a ruthless local infantry unit. "Rambo acted very cruelly, but his cruelty is nothing compared to that of the military junta," a Burmese student in Thailand was quoted by Reuters.

In Rangoon, local people said Burmese have gone crazy over lines from the film such as:

  • When you're pushed, killing's as easy as breathing.

  • Burma's a warzone.

  • Rambo: Are you
    bringing in any weapons?

    Aid worker: Of course not.

    Rambo: You're not changin' anything.

The tagline of the blood and guts movie is: "Live for nothing, die for something."

Stallone's movie specifically focuses on the Karen near the Thai border. The Karen and other groups have suffered half a million cases of forced relocation and thousands more have been imprisoned, tortured or killed by the military dictators.

Stallone told Reuters that he hopes the film can provoke a confrontation. "I'm only hoping that the Burmese military, because they take such incredible offence to this, would call it lies and scurrilous propaganda. Why don't you invite me over?" he said. "Let me take a tour of your country without someone pointing a gun at my
head and we'll show you where all the bodies are buried..."

Bangkok Post

Monday, 4 February 2008

Khlong Saen Saeb

Crash.. As we pull in at speed, the wooden hull slams against the pier. Two helmeted crew members jump ashore, ropes in hand. There waiting silently, stoically on land, is an adorable Thai girl in an unfeasibly short skirt and 3” high heels. “Oh dear,.. the misfortunate," I think to myself as the boat beneath heaves and splutters, noxious diesel fumes permeating the air, my brain. “How will she get on while maintaining an ounce of decorum, her dignity?"

Her reply? She hops assertively off the landing stage, plants a foot on the gunwale, grabs the rope and swings down and into the hull next to me – all in a matter of seconds and with the casual aplomb, not to mention sex appeal, of an Asian Lara Croft. I'm left surprised and smitten. But for this 9-to-5 office worker meets dressed-to-kill stuntwoman it’s par for the course, all in a day’s getting to work.

I'm on Khlong Saen Saep, a line of dirty brown water that weaves its way through the city. Why did it take me so long? It’s fowl, ugly, smelly and dangerous, but also fast, cheap, quick, exhilarating and awesome. Think public transport meets extreme sports - Venice on Popeye’s favourite spinach. The boats surge along at speed, stopping off at piers bisecting Bo Bae market, Pratunam, Childom, Asok, Nana and Thonglor, among other areas. It begins by Pan Faa bridge, in the Old City, and ends out in Bangna, and the journey from one to the other costs only 20 baht.

It must be so cheap because its a deathtrap. Fall in and you’ll be submerged in what resembles Willy Wonka’s scrumptious chocolate lake but is, actually, a poisonous toxic sludge (one hapless Thai pop star did and subsequently died of a fungal brain infection). Stick your head up to catch a breeze and you’ll be decapitated by one of Bangkok’s many low-slung bridges, only for your bloated torso to resurface days later in the Chao Phraya, tangled poetically amidst clutches of water hyacinth. But it’s the deckhands who really do dance with death - they walk the rim of the boat, one hand hanging on for dear life, the other rummaging for small change as they collect fairs.

Hailing from the UK, a country where every danger is systematically scrubbed out of existence by dour Health and Safety bureaucrats, thus rendering modern life banal, and ultimately futile, I think this is brilliant. You’re overwhelmingly alive, Khlong San Saeb screams, because one slip means you won’t be. It’s like a faulty fairground ride that’s been adapted to transport the clinically insane. And that’s precisely why I love it.