Eventhough an official release date in Thailand is not yet confirmed, the the movie “Twilight Over Burma”, based on the novel by Inge Sargent, already receives warm welcome from its audience including the Thais and Shan, among others. The movie has been nominated for awards at the Cannes Film Festival. Twilight Over Burma reflects on a history that remains unresolved during the pas 5 decades. It gives a beautiful depiction of Shan people and their ways of life in Burnma’s Shan State which encompassed 34 towns governed by “saophas” or princes. One of the princes is Sao Kya Seng who ruled Hsipaw and was a member of the Burmese parliament until he was arrested by the Burmese army under General Ne Win and disappeared.
The movie, directed by the Austrian Sabine Derflinger, was premiered on TV last October and will be shown in Germany this year. The main characters are the prince Sao Kya Seng, played by the Thai actor Daweerit Chullasapy, and Inge Sargent, played by the German actress Maria Ehrich. They fall in love during their student years in the US. At that time, Inge had no clue that Sao Kya Seng was a prince until she accompanied him back to his homeland.
Daweerit, known as “Pae”, has talked about when he received confirmation from the Living Film Company that he would play Sao Kya Seng:
“ I was given the script. I had additional information from my wife, Caitlin Lee Haas, who did some research about Sao Kya Seng. I also learned more from the novel which was translated into Thai by Manunya. I talked to my director, Sabine Derflinger and producer, Alfred Deutsch who have known Sargent personally for years.”
Daweerit said that playing Sao Kya Seng was challenging and interesting. The more he learned about the prince’s story, the keener he was to play the character. Not only virtuous and loved by his people, the prince was a good husband and father. He was also warm, sweet and playful.
“Meeting Shan people, I found that both Shan and Thai cultures are pretty similar. Friendliness, hospitality, and compassion, to name a few. I felt very welcomed. I still remember clearly how impressively well the Shan people preserve their traditions. I feel touched by their welcome until this day.” says Daweerit, recounting his interaction with Hsipaw people during the filming making.
“The filming started in Austria, then Thailand and ended in Hsipaw. Hsipaw is a peaceful place with lovely culture and fresh air. To get to the filming locations each morning, we sailed on a boat through the mist. It was very beautiful. Personally, I believe that when we work in a natural environment, our mind and brain become bright and clear.”
Khun Htun Oo, the Chairman of the Shan Nationalities League for Democracy (SNLD) and the nephew of Sao Kya Seng recalled the day of the Burmese army’s menace.
“We were at the Palace in Taunggyi . The morning of General Ne Win’s Coup d’Etat, soldiers were sent to our house and commanded that my father (Sao Kya Song, brother of Sao Kya Seng) go to a meeting at the headquarters. They did not say much apart from telling my father to bring his toothbrush, medicines and warm sweaters. But that was enough for us to know that he would be imprisoned.”
Khun Htun Oo added jokingly, “That meeting lasted 5 whole years at Insein Prison.” Before it happened, Khun Htun Oo was setting off to go to school. “I told my uncle (Kya Seng) to be careful as I was afraid something bad would happen. “After the car dropped me off at school, my uncle continued the trip to Heho. On his way he was captured by the Eastern Army.” The arrest and disappearance of Sao Kya Seng brought long lasting pain and suffering to his wife and children, as well as Hsipaw and Shan people who loved and respected him so much. That menace has become a deep wound embedded in Shan peoples feeling toward the Burmese military government.
“This is why we have been fighting for freedom, independence and equality. What Burmese soldiers did to me (he was arrested in 2005 and sentenced to 95 years in prison, though he was released after some years afterwards) is nothing compared to what my uncle and other leaders have been through. We have nothing to lose (from political fights).” said Khun Htun Oo venting his feelings about half a decade of fighting and mobilizing toward dignity of Shan nationalities.
Pippa, a relative of Sao Kya Seng, shared her thought on the movie. “It’s important that audiences don’t just think of this is a historical film. What happened to Sao Kya Hseng all those years ago is a prototype for what Burmese government troops have been doing to the ethnic peoples ever since. The horror and heartache of disappearance and extrajudicial killing are continuing till today. Any outrage felt watching this film should be directed not only at past Burmese military leaders, but also at those still in power and continuing to authorize such crimes with impunity. ”
Charm Tong, a Shan human rights activist, talked of her feelings about the novel being turned into a movie. She feels sad. Firstly, because it takes us back to the history of Shan state at that period. At the same time, it is a living history as the princess and her daughters, Kennari and Mayari, are still alive. Their whole lives are wounded as much as lives of people of Shan state. Such wounds last until now while the brutality of the Burmese army continues to lives of Shan people and other ethnic groups who have not yet received justice.
“Every year, Sao Kya Seng’s daughters write a letter to the Burmese government concerning the disappearance of their father. They have never received a response.” Charm Tong added that she is glad the novel has become a movie. She hopes it will reach a huge audience. So far, the stories of Sao Kya Seng, and other Shan princes whose powers were taken away by General Ne Win, have never been mentioned in schools. Young people are not aware of it. Charm Tong hopes that this movie will bring improved understanding of the situation in Burma, the struggles of ethnic nationalities, and will help to create real change.
The film adaptation of the book “Twilight Over Burma” has created new “meanings” for a lot of people who have been oppressed and invaded both territorially and culturally.
Let us keep an eye on whether the recent political changes in Burma will allow us to see more light in the “Shan” State.
Translated from Thai article : ความหมายและความหวังากภาพยนตร์ “สิ้นแสงฉาน”