Little chance for monk-led protests
Confronted by a military junta willing to pull the
trigger, Buddhist monks and democracy activists in Myanmar face long odds in
trying to uproot an institution that has wielded absolute power for 45
Every sign of dissent over the decades has been crushed, including a major
uprising in 1988 that ended when troops gunned down thousands of peaceful
demonstrators and imprisoned the survivors.
Typically, the junta blames the protests on a conspiracy by “domestic and
external elements,” meaning the West and those in Myanmar who look to its
support in the demand for civilian rule. The military trots out a motto
underlining a different value system “peace, stability, unity.”
By Myanmar standards, the crackdown so far has been muted. Though the
military will not be satisfied until it has won, several restraining forces
may be at work that would prevent a replay of 1988 and indicate some
willingness to make compromises later.
“Will the soldiers shoot at the Buddha? Or will the generals try something
else this time? A `straightforward massacre’ as in 1988 may not be possible
this time,” said Bertil Lintner, a Myanmar expert and author of a book on
that uprising two decades ago.
Although monks have been spearheading the demonstrations and filling most of
the ranks in protest marches, they are not likely to emerge in a leadership
role, Lintner said.
Some experts think that once the unrest is quelled, the regime may be
willing to take some conciliatory steps, depending on the intensity of
pressure from China, the United Nations and others in the world community as
well as from within.
But there are no signs the generals, ensconced and safe in the remote new
bunker-like capital of Naypyitaw, intend to relinquish any of the real power
they have held since the last civilian government was toppled in 1962.
Questions have been being raised about whether soldiers, who are virtually
all from the Buddhist ethnic Burman majority, would defy the taboo on
mistreating monks and other countrymen. Most Burmese males spend at least a
token few weeks as monks as a show of devotion.
However, there are no signs of cracks among the military’s rank and file.
Soldiers have shown no sympathy for protesters, and none has changed sides
as happened in 1988 when some air force personnel joined demonstrations.
Troops are kept isolated in barracks; their families get free housing and
“Judging from the nature and habit of the Myanmar military, they will not
allow the monks or activists to topple them,” said Chaiyachoke Julsiriwong,
a Myanmar scholar at Chulalongkorn University in Bangkok.
“They will fight at all costs because these people have grown to believe
they are the only institution that can uphold the nation’s security. They
think of themselves as the center of the nation.”
Denis Gray is The Associated Press bureau chief in Bangkok, Thailand, and
has reported on Myanmar since the mid-1970s, including the 1988 uprising.
An eyeful and an
earful from the Bangkok
International Film Festival
I mentioned some of the good things last time, now here are some of
the bad moments about the recent Bangkok International Film Festival.
Although supposedly a glitzy, high society affair, there was a scatological
(really sickening) Thai preview In Country & Melody that was shown to
disgusted audiences before nearly every film. You remember the one where
three men submerged to their necks in a hot tub are blowing floating pieces
of human excrement into each other’s faces. I felt embarrassed for Thailand
when this was shown for their guests from around the world.
Also, there were problems with the venue: for the discussions and Q&A after
some of the films, no one could seem get the projector turned off, and then
no one could get the house lights to come up, much less spotlights on the
speakers —and the microphones seldom worked. Three times in my viewings the
film got stuck in the projector and burned a hole in the film. And twice I
had water dripping on me from the air conditioning. And the toilets were
invariably out of supplies, and some were just filthy! Pretty bad for a
supposedly world class event!
In this second article on films I found of interest, we look at three more,
all available on DVD.
Shortbus from the US was a wild XXX-rated sex ride through some
contemporary erotic fads and fashions in New York City, and “Shortbus”
is a sort of underground club where some ordinary and some very perverted
people gather to talk and relax, and have an orgy or two. Directed by John
Cameron Mitchell, and written by him and the cast. The showings were
strictly restricted to adults only, with ID required. Naturally, it played
to packed houses, unlike a great number of showings of other films that
played to only a few filmgoers. Strong scenes, some indistinguishable from
pornography, but has some interesting twists on that old business of sex,
whose grip we can’t seem to shake off. The DVD is available at Amazon. See
it only if you’re un-shockable and curious.
13 Beloved is a Thai film from last October that played to fair
critical success in Thailand, though certainly not at the box office. I saw
this film several times before and was happy to make its acquaintance again
here. It’s rough, but excellent – probably the most brilliantly provocative
Thai film I have seen – directed by Chukiat Sakveerakul. A Nation newspaper
critic simply states it is “the best Thai film of 2006.” An average Thai man
(Krissada Sukosol Clapp) gets sucked into a competition on a strange TV game
show where he can win 100 million baht, if only he will agree to perform a
series of 13 “simple” acts – which acts, however, become increasingly more
morally questionable, ever so gradually involving serious injury and death.
It turns out the challenges test the contestant in every aspect of his life:
love, religion, moral values. They also will cost him his friends, his
family, his sanity, and perhaps his life.
The rules prohibit him from telling anyone that he is playing or to
investigate the origin of the game. Sounds a lot like life, right?
In exploring the length to which a person will go at the expense of others
to attain a goal, the film supposedly has some strong anti-Thaksin
It’s probably at your local movie rental or sales shop, and I urge you to
see it. A VCD in Thai only has gone on sale at 7-11, but a DVD version has
just been released in Singapore under the title “13: Game of Death”
which has English subtitles. This can probably be specially ordered through
some local retailers, or, for sure, online at www.moviexclusive.com.
Time is a truly eerie Korean film, with a disturbing picture of a
voracious, scheming, crazy woman, skillfully directed. It’s the thirteenth
film by South Korean director Kim Ki-duk, a bad-boy director and enfant
terrible if ever there was one, but one I recommend you see it. In his
controversy-filled decade of filmmaking, his extreme representations of
social/sexual oppression have earned him the reputation of a male
chauvinistic, uncouth monster. Despite much acclaim overseas, his films have
done poorly in Korea. Kim at the outset prohibited this film from even being
shown in Korea.
Plastic surgery is a hot topic in Korea, reflected in films like the
romantic comedy 200 Pounds Beauty, recently shown here (with only Thai
subtitles, darn!). Kim addresses this fashionable and controversial theme in
a wholly different way. In Kim’s film the wife undergoes plastic surgery to
reawaken her husband’s interest, but without telling him; she reenters his
life as a new woman, with horrific results. Kim’s unpredictable genius goes
to extremes here to probe the dark, jealous core of a relationship gone
It is available on VCD, and a DVD with English subtitles.