Beyond Rangoon is a 1995 drama film directed by John Boorman about Laura Bowman (played by Patricia Arquette), an American tourist who vacations in the country of Burma (now known as Myanmar) in 1988, the year in which the 8888 Uprising takes place. The film was mostly filmed in Malaysia, and, though a work of fiction, was inspired by real people and real events.
Theatrical release poster
|Directed by||John Boorman|
|Produced by||John Boorman|
|Written by||Alex Lasker|
|Music by||Hans Zimmer|
|Edited by||Ron Davis|
|Distributed by||Columbia Pictures|
|99 minutes |
Bowman joins, albeit initially unintentionally, political rallies with university students protesting for democracy, and travels with the student leader U Aung Ko throughout Burma. There, they see the brutality of the military dictatorship of the Ne Win Regime and attempt to escape to Thailand.
The film was an official selection at the 1995 Cannes Film Festival.
The film may have had an impact beyond movie screens, however. Only weeks into its European run, the Burmese military junta freed Nobel Peace Prize winner Aung San Suu Kyi (depicted in the film) after several years under strict house arrest. The celebrated democracy leader thanked the filmmakers in her first interview with the BBC. Suu Kyi was re-arrested a few years later, but Beyond Rangoon had already helped raise world attention on a previously "invisible" tragedy: the massacres of 1988 and the cruelty of her country's military rulers.
Andy Bowman persuades her sister Laura to go on a trip to Burma after Laura’s husband and son were murdered during a home invasion and Laura had gone into a deep depression. One night, unable to sleep because of nightmares, Laura leaves her hotel in Rangoon and gets caught up in an anti-government protest. She is very impressed by the bravery of Aung San Suu Kyi.
When her tour group leaves the country, Laura cannot leave with them as her passport was stolen the previous night. While staying behind waiting for her new passport, she meets U Aung Ko, who acts as an unofficial tour guide and drives an ancient Chevy. He takes Laura out into the countryside to a Buddhist monastery. The car develops problems, but fortunately tthey are able to coast to the house of some of Ko’s friends and former students. Laura learns that Ko used to be a college professor, who was banned from teaching because of his support for the anti-government activities led by his former student Min Han. She has a breakdown and tells Ko what happened to her family.
The next morning they learn that the 8888 uprising began the previous day. Ko takes Laura to a station to get train back to Rangoon. She sneaks on board, but the soldiers start beating Ko and when Min Han intervenes, Han is shot and killed. Laura gets Ko into the car and they leave, pursued by the soldiers, but Ko is shot and wounded. They end up crashing into the Irrawaddy river, but get away from the soldiers. They get on a raft taking bamboo to Rangoon. Laura, who is a doctor operates on Ko to remove the bullet.
The next day the raft stops at a village. Laura goes to find drugs to treat Ko. She reluctantly accepts a pistol from one of the crew. At a clinic Laura finds the drugs she needs, but has to shoot a soldier to keep from being raped. When they arrive in Rangoon, the city is in the throes of a full-scale revolt. When Laura attempts to get into the US embassy the military tries to arrest her for helping Ko. The student demonstrators rescue her and Ko. After they witness soldiers killing civilians they get put on a truck heading for the border. Near the border the group has to abandon their truck and make run through the jungle. They meet up with a group of Karen rebels. Laura has a dream where her son Danny tells her she has to let him go. Ko urges Laura to do so, telling her, "All things pass, Laura. They are shadows as we are shadows. Briefly walking the earth, and soon gone."
The next day, Laura and her group of refugees make a harrowing river crossing into Thailand under mortar fire and reach a refugee camp. Having found a new purpose in life Laura begins helping at the camp’s hospital.
- Patricia Arquette as Laura Bowman
- Frances McDormand as Andy Bowman
- U Aung Ko as U Aung Ko
- Johnny Cheah as Min Han
- Adelle Lutz as Aung San Suu Kyi
- Spalding Gray as Jeremy Watt
- Tiara Jacquelina as San San, Hotel Desk Clerk
- Kuswadinata as Colonel at Hotel
- Victor Slezak as Mr. Scott
- Jit Murad as Sein Htoo
- Ye Myint as Zaw Win
- Cho Cho Myint as Zabai
- M. Rajoli as Karen Father
- Azmi Hassan as Older Karen Boy
- Ahmad Fithi as Younger Karen Boy
- Ismail Din as Myanmar Official
- Hani Mohsin as Young Monk / Soldier
- Zaidi Omar as Checkpoint Official #1
- Roslee Mansor as Checkpoint Soldier #2
- Nyak Osman as Village Headman
- Mr. Os as River Trader
Critical reaction was mixed. Time, Rolling Stone, and Entertainment Weekly wrote negative reviews, while the critic for The New Yorker called the film a "fearless masterpiece" and Andrew Sarris declared himself "awestruck" by the film. Roger Ebert awarded the film three stars out of four, praising Arquette's performance and acknowledging the political repression in Burma. Distributed by Columbia Pictures, the film was not a theatrical success in America, which John Boorman partially attributed to interference by the Burmese government as well as Malaysia which was where the film was shot on location. The film was a financial success only in France (where it opened number one and gained 442,793 visitors), though it was screened in many European countries. Film critic Tullio Kezich compared the film to Rossellini's classic, Paisà, regretting that it was marred by certain directorial touches. Beyond Rangoon currently holds a 38% rating on Rotten Tomatoes based on 34 reviews.
Beyond Rangoon is an original soundtrack music album that was mostly composed by Hans Zimmer. The album was released in 1999 to mixed reviews.
- "BEYOND RANGOON (12)". British Board of Film Classification. May 15, 1995. Retrieved June 12, 2012.
- "Beyond Rangoon". British Film Institute. London. Archived from the original on February 10, 2009. Retrieved November 10, 2012.
- Kaye, Don. "Beyond Rangoon (1995)". Allmovie. Retrieved November 10, 2012.
- James, Caryn (25 August 1995) "Film Review: Sad Tourist Trapped In Burma" The New York Times
- Bailie, Stuart (15 November 2010) "The Rangoon Show" BBC News