For a Hollywood action film, Rambo has been generating a lot of political commentary, particularly in Southeast Asia. But I guess I shouldn't be surprised, because the film deals with the hot-button issue of Burma, a hellishly impoverished, isolated country ruled by iron-fisted military fatcats who call it Myanmar, and keep Nobel Peace Prize laureate and democracy leader Aung San Suu Kyi under house arrest.
Maligned by the film critics of the mainstream press, Rambo is a close No. 2 to uh, Meet the Spartans, at the box office in the U.S. Rambo has also won praise from fans for being an ultra-violent throwback to 1980s-style action flicks.
The movie has been released in Singapore, where tickets have been snapped up by overseas Burmese democracy activists, who have used the occasion to call attention to their cause, and talk about the Burmese junta's violent crackdown on protests last year. Says a Burmese expat:
Just like Rambo is in the movie, Burma is waiting for a hero or someone to lead the revolution.
Other Burmese are critical of the film, saying it's typical Hollywood grandstanding that only trivializes the Burmese situation. Says Sai So Win Latt, commentator for The Irrawaddy:
In the new film, Rambo’s brutal murders are justified when he mutters: “When you're pushed, killing's as easy as breathing." Another time he quips to a group of mercenaries: “Live for nothing or die for something.
It all goes back to the same old cliché—once Western people get into trouble, things suddenly become “This is who we are and this is what we do.” Such a colonial mindset.
In the real world, we see a similar mindset at work. We witness every single American soldier killed in Iraq and Afghanistan mentioned on television. We watch national leaders mourning for their deaths. Meanwhile, countless missiles rain down on civilians in residential neighborhoods and anonymous victims in Iraq and Afghanistan.
For its part, the Burmese junta has ordered local pirate DVD vendors to not stock the new Rambo, or else they will face arrest.
In Thailand, where the film was shot in 2006, Rambo has been picked up for distribution by Rose Media, though no firm date for release has yet been given. Over on The Nation's Weblogs, the question has been posed whether the film will be released in Thailand at all, given the Thai government's cozy relations to the Burmese junta. Showing the film would only call attention to the 800-pound gorilla in the room that Thai officials would rather not discuss.
Also, given that Thai censors have recently started cracking down on violence in film, as seen by the "foggy blurring" of blood in the local theatrical release of Sweeney Todd, it's questionable how much of the film would be shown if it is released. That it's being handled by Rose Media, a distributor that is notorious for its censored DVD releases (they're the ones that superimpose text messages on scenes to say "smoking is harmful" and "guns are bad"), does not bode well for the film's chances in Thailand.
Rambo was filmed in Chiang Mai Province, Thailand in 2006. The fourth in the franchise of films that started in 1982 with First Blood, features Stallone's battle-scarred Vietnam War veteran living along the banks of the Salween River - a location that brings to brings to mind Sterling Silliphant's and Chatrichalerm Yukol's 1994 action film, Salween. I wonder if Sly was inspired by it? In Rambo, the hero has retreated to a quiet life as a river guide who captures snakes for the locals. He is stirred into action once more after a group of Christian missionaries is captured by the Burmese military and need to be rescued.
Last year, when the protests against out-of-control price increases flared up in Rangoon (or Yangon) and other cities across Burma, and were violently put down by the junta's soldiers, Stallone offered his recollection of what he saw while filming on location along the border:
I witnessed the aftermath [in Burma] - survivors with legs cut off and all kinds of land mine injuries, maggot-infested wounds and ears cut off. We saw many elephants with blown-off legs. We hear about Vietnam and Cambodia, but this was more horrific.
And, in the face of the Burmese generals' orders to pirate movie hawkers in Burma, Stallone has made new statements.
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?cLet 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... Or let's go debate in Washington in front of a congressional hearing... But I doubt that's going to happen.
Meanwhile, Stallone has been back and forth over whether he's going to do a Rambo V, going from "I can't go any further" to "right now I think I'm gearing one up ... we'll do something a little darker and a little more unexpected."
Time to order some more human growth hormone.