Film About Burmese Coup May Still Hit Too Close to Home

Actors Maria Ehrich and Daweerit Chullasapya discuss their film ‘Twilight Over Burma: My Life as a Shan Princess’  on Thursday afternoon at a press conference at the Bangkok Art & Culture Centre.

By Simon Duncan
Deputy Editor

BANGKOK ― An elected prime minister is removed by the army chief. Those who offer defiance are taken into secret detention; Western diplomats annoy the new junta.

A foreign woman learns rice is khao and bird is nok.

These threads which sound ripped from the headlines of today are actually scenes from “Twilight Over Burma: My Life as a Shan Princess.”

While across town Thursday, Thailand’s military rulers were meeting with Gen. Min Aung Hlaing, commander-in-chief of the Myanmar armed forces,  “Twilight Over Burma: My Life as a Shan Princess,” the only film to date about the 1962 Burmese coup d’etat, was shown publicly for the first time in Thailand at the Bangkok Art and Culture Centre.

Interest was high to see the 2015 film. According to Enno Drofenik, Austria’s ambassador to Thailand, who introduced the film Thursday, about 2,000 people sought tickets to the theater which only sits a few dozen.

Many seats were taken by the Thai cast and crew, mostly watching for the first time. U.S. Ambassador Glyn Davies was also in attendance.

The lead character, Prince Sao Kya Seng, is portrayed by Daweerit Chullasapya, a Thai model making his acting debut. His wife in the film, Inge Sargent, is played by Maria Ehrich, a 23-year-old German actress.

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Cast and crew on stage after the screening Thursday evening at the Bangkok Art and Culture Centre.

The movie is based on the memoir by Sargent and the story begins in 1950s America where Sao Kya Seng, a young prince from Shan state studies mining at university. In the US he also fulfills another goal of learning  more about democratic ideals.

In Colorado he meets an Austrian lady who moves with him to Burma in the late 1950s as his wife. Their seemingly idyllic life in Shan state, a mountainous region of Myanmar that borders northern Thailand, populated by people who speak a language related to Thai, is shattered by the 1962 coup.

The film sticks closely to the book of the same name: It is part love story but not a sugary rom-com. Instead the relationship between the two leads is an interesting way of bringing information about the 1962 coup d’etat and its aftermath to a wider audience.

Sargent’s husband, a champion of democracy,  was abducted following the coup and has not been seen since.

Despite being originally made as a TV movie broadcast in Germany in March 2015, the production looks and feels like a bigger budget production and Maria Ehrich, the lead actress impresses in her role as Inge Sargent.

Aside from several scenes set in Rangoon and filmed there, other scenes set in Burma as it was then known were filmed in northern Thailand, producer Alfred Deutsch said.

Many characters are from Myanmar, however they are mostly played by Thais. Sahajak Boonthanakit portrays dictator General Ne Win, his second coup-related film shot in Thailand but set elsewhere, as he also appeared in the Hollywood film “No Escape.”

The version of the film screened Thursday in Bangkok was uncut and the Thai subtitles were generated live.

At present the film does not have a distributor in the region, but Deutsch said that he hopes that the film will be shown either on TV or in theatres in Thailand and Myanmar in the future if a buyer can be found.

General release in Thailand would be challenging as some scenes and dialogue might face with difficulty with film board censors. At one point the lead character argues that democracy is more important than royalty, and there are scenes of a prince held in a cage.

In the meantime the book  “Twilight Over Burma: My Life as a Shan Princess” is available in bookstores in both English and Thai.

Related stories:

No Ban For ‘No Escape,’ Movie Depicting Coup Filmed In Thailand