Beyond Rangoon (1995) 



Director:    John Boorman. 

Starring:    Patricia Arquette (Laura Bowman), U Aung Ko (U Aung Ko), Frances McDormand (Andy Bowman), Spalding Gray (Jeremy Watt), Tiara Jacquelina (San San, Hotel Desk Clerk), Kuswadinath Bujang (Colonel at Hotel), Victor Slezak (Mr. Scott), Jit Murad (Sein Htoo), Ye Myint (Zaw Win), Cho Cho Myint (Zabai), Johnny Cheah (Min Han), Haji Mohd Rajoli (Karen Father), Azmi Hassan (Older Karen Boy), Ahmad Fithi (Younger Karen Boy), Adelle Lutz (Aung San Suu Kyi).

American tourist gets caught up in the repression of the military dictatorship in Burma



Spoiler Warning:  below is a summary of the entire movie.  

Burma (now Myanmar) 1988.  Physician Laura Bowman has recently suffered a great personal tragedy.  Her husband and son were killed in a robbery.  Her sister, physician Andy Bowman, has taken her on a tour of Burma to help get Laura's mind off the deaths.  But, as Laura says, it didn't work.  On a tour to see a reclining Buddha, a young boy falls from on top of the statue to the ground.   It reminds her of her own child and she gets very upset. 

In Rangoon Laura has a hard time sleeping and so she goes out of her hotel where she sees a large student demonstration.  She also sees lots of soldiers.  The demonstrators are carrying pictures of politician Aung San Suu Kyi and chanting her name.  They say that she will lead the nation to democracy.  The soldiers jump in front of the demonstrators to stop them.  But Aung San Suu Kyi approaches the soldiers and they let her pass through their ranks.  Laura is extremely impressed by her serenity and courage. 

Laura returns to her hotel.  There she finds the tour guide and her sister frantically worrying about her.  A Colonel at the hotel tells her that she has broken curfew and that she could go to prison for the offense.  She back talks the Colonel and her sister has to intervene to get her out of  real trouble. Andy asks Laura where is her passport.  Laura has either lost it or it was stolen.  This means trouble because the group is leaving the next morning.  At the airport they let everyone go except Laura because of her missing passport.  Andy is upset but she agrees to leave her sister in Rangoon for the moment.  Laura heads over to the American embassy and gets a temporary passport.  The official there tells her that an American passport is worth a lot of money.  He also tells her that the military dictatorship has put a temporary hold on tourist groups and that she may be the only foreign tourist in Burma. 

As she walks through the streets an older man with white hair, U Aung Ko, asks if he can be her guide.  After some quick talking, he is able to convince Laura to let him guide her.  Above all Laura wants to get out of Rangoon and into the countryside.   U Aung Ko is wary of this because there are many military checkpoints.  But he says that if she will provide the money from some bribes they probably can get by the checkpoints.  He tells Laura that Burma is a land of monks and soldiers.  He also says that women are equal to men in Burma.  He takes her to a monastery where the car's water pump gives out.  He and Laura have to push the car part of the way down the road in order to reach some people he knows.  As they push, a car pulls up in front of them.  U Aung Ko is happy to see his friends.  The friends pull the car to their house and U Aung Ko is reunited with a group of former students of his at Rangoon University where he was a professor.  Min Han was a student of his that got deeply involved in the student democracy movement in 1974.  The army smashed the organization and arrested Min Han.  He escaped and the professor helped to hide him.  For this the professor went to prison for two years and was forbidden from teaching ever again.  The General has ruled for 25 years.  No foreign journalists are allowed in Burma.  Laura notices that this was the first time she was able to let go since the murder of her family. 

Suddenly the students say that she must go back to Rangoon immediately.   The military has opened fire on the Rangoon demonstrators, martial law has been declared and they have closed the airports.  She must get to the American embassy for sanctuary.  They drive Laura to the train station.  U Aung Ko has to distract the military guard to allow Laura to sneak to the train.  From the train Laura sees a soldier hitting the Professor with his rifle butt.  Min Han intervenes to push the soldier off the Professor.  The former student then tries to escape through the jungle, but the soldier shoots and kills Min Han.  Laura jumps off the train and rushes to help the Professor into the car.  Laura drives past the military guard and she soon finds herself being chased by soldiers in a jeep.  They shoot at the escaping car and manage to hit the Professor.  She crashes the car which winds up in the river.  Laura helps the Professor swim downstream.  A soldier goes into the water and shoots at them.  Laura and the Professor manage to escape.  They find a village where she is able to use her last money to get a ride on a raft down to Rangoon.  On the raft she is able to use a knife to take the bullet out of the Professor. 

The raft ties up at a dock.  Laura starts to walk to the adjacent village to get some medical supplies for the Professor.  A young worker on the raft chases after her to give her a pistol.  On her way she sees the military execute two men with shots to the head.  She is able to sneak by to get to the red cross station.  She grabs some medicine but is interrupted by a soldier holding a rifle on her.  He attempts to rape her, but she is able to get to her pistol.  She shoots the would-be rapist in the gutt and he goes down.  She runs back to the raft and the raft takes off. 

Back in Rangoon Laura and the Professor try to make it to the American embassy.  But near the embassy the evil Colonel from the hotel tells his men to grab her.  They catch her, but the student demonstrators intervene to free her.  They run and run with her and the Professor from the pursuing soldiers.  Meanwhile the military starts shooting the demonstrators.  Laura and the Professor get away when they are able to climb onto a truck with student families heading for the border with Thailand.  At a checkpoint, the students jump out and overpower the guards.  In the mountains they find that they are being chased by the military in a jeep.  The truck comes to an abrupt halt not far from the river on the border and the refugees make a run for it.  The military chase them and Laura and the Professor have to hide under some refuse in a stream.  The military does not find them and they and some others start walking to the border.  There they are met by some Karen soldiers.  The Karen have fought the military for over 40 years. Those not caught are able to reach the bridge leading to Thailand.  At the bridge leading over to the refugee camp in Thailand, the Professor is able to talk the guard into going with them to sanctuary in Thailand.  The group starts to cross.  All of a sudden the military opens up with mortar fire.  A number of students and others are killed by the explosions.  Laura reaches the other side and then has to root on the escape of the Professor and the deserter.  They make it.  All are very grateful to be in Thailand.  The Professor finds his daughter and granddaughter at the camp.  Laura decides to help care for the wounded.  A medical worker asks her how long she can stay and Laura responds: "As long as you need me."  She has found a good reason to live. 

Thousands of Burmese were massacred in the military crackdown.  More than 700,000 fled.  Two million were forced into the jungle.  Torture and oppression continue to this day.  In 1990 Aung San Suu Kyi's Democracy Party won an overwhelming victory but the military regime refused to hand over power.  Aung San Suu Kyi has been under house arrest in Rangoon since 1988.  Separated from her husband and two sons, she refuses to go into exile and remains a symbol of hope for her people.  In 1991 she received the Nobel Peace Prize.


Good movie.  Much of the movie is a chase movie as the main characters try to escape from Burma into Thailand, but the movie is able to sustain enough tension to keep one interested in watching.  In the movie the character Laura is worried that the world will never know of what really happened in Burma, but the movie goes a long way to tell the story of the repression in that country. 

Patrick Louis Cooney, Ph. D.

Historical Background:


1948 (January 4)  --  independence for Burma from Great Britain.  The country was named the “Union of Burma”.  Its President was Sao Shwe Thaik and its Prime Minister was U Nu. 

1961  --  U Thant, Burma's Permanent Representative to the United Nations, was elected Secretary-General of the United Nations. He served in this position for ten years.  During that time, young Aung San Suu Kyi worked at the United Nations.

1962  --  General Ne Win led a coup d'état that took over the government.  The General ruled for almost 26 years.

1974 (January 4)  --  country's name changed to the “Socialist Republic of the Union of Burma”.

1974  --  bloody anti-government protests at the funeral of U Thant.

1988  --  the 8888 Uprising threatened revolution.  General Saw Maung led a coup d'état.

1988 (September 23)  --  name changes back to the “Union of Burma”.

1989  --  widespread protests leads to the declaration of martial law. 

1989 (May 31)  --  finalization of plans for the People's Assembly elections.

1989 (June 18)  -- the country's named changed to the “Union of Myanmar”.

1990  --  free elections held and the party of Aung San Suu Kyi wins 409 out of a total 489 seats.  The election, however, was voided by the government.

1992  -- the leader of the military government becomes Than Shwe.  

1993 (January 9)  --  a new constitution begins. 

1997  -- the State Law and Order Restoration Council renamed the State Peace and Development Council (SPDC).

2006  (March 27)  --  the military junta moved the national capital from Yangon to Naypyidaw (near Pyinmana). 

2006 (November)  --  at the International Court of Justice, the International Labor Organization seeks charges against Myanmar because of its continued use of forced labor. 


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