RAMBO: Wanted in Myanmar

The ultra-violent movie has been outlawed in Myanmar, but locals still crave a look at Sylvester Stallone's politically-inflammatory Rambo.
Police in military-run Myanmar have banned the sale of Sylvester Stallone's blood-splattering new film, Rambo, but that hasn't stopped people from trying to acquire bootleg DVD copies.

"Many customers keep asking about Rambo 4 but I dare not to sell it," said one vendor. "Police have warned me I could go to jail for up to seven years if I sell the latest Rambo film."

The movie picks up with Vietnam veteran John J. Rambo (Stallone) two decades after the original trilogy's conclusion, living quietly in Thailand, near the Burmese border, where he catches snakes for money. But, when a ruthless and sadistic army colonel captures a band of American Christian missionaries, who are helping ethnic Karen villagers up-river, Rambo leads a group of mercenaries in a violent rescue mission into the war zone.

It's the bloodiest installment of the Rambo franchise--earning it a spot on some horror film news sites--but it's the real-life setting that has made it so controversial in Asia.

Burma's bloody civil war erupted when the country came under military rule in 1962, and has waged on ever since, with the junta continuing its persecution of Karen minorities. Reports coming out of the east tell of the murders of hundreds, or even thousands, of peaceful Burmese protesters, including Buddhist monks. Recently, a top leader of Myanmar's largest Karen rebel group was assassinated at his exile home in Thailand.

Stallone--who also wrote, directed and co-produced the film--didn't want to wade into such a political hotbed without getting his facts straight.

"For a film like this you have to do tons and tons of research," he explained. "We looked at The Free Burma Rangers a lot, hit all the websites and so on. There's an unbelievable amount of material available on the atrocities there, literally updated hour by hour. It's hard to believe the horrendous activity going on there, and that it's publicized but nobody does anything about it."

Rambo has become one of the most sought-after DVDs in Yangon, but, thanks largely to Stallone's portrayal of the Burmese military as sadistic and cruel, the film cannot be bought anywhere.

"I have asked a DVD seller where I can buy the movie, but he told me I can buy anything--including banned porn videos from India, China, Japan and South Korea--but not Rambo 4," complained a 30-year-old business man, who said he also tried several times to download the film from the Internet.

One 45-year-old pro-democracy activist was among the few to see it. "I like the movie very much because Rambo fought against Myanmar soldiers."

"We had messages from students saying how much pleasure they get from seeing something which is more visual than the standard news footage," Stallone told Screenjabber.com. "They also said that the violence in the film is nothing compared to what is actually going on there."

While most critics say that, realistic or not, Rambo is gratuitously violent, Stallone disagrees. "Gratuitous to me is a film about ten teenagers being chased around in the woods by a man with a meat cleaver. This film is about war, and a civil war at that which, as we know, for some odd reason, tends to be more violent than any other type of war."

Sellers of pirated DVDs, an illegal but thriving trade in Myanmar, said that some Rambo copies have been smuggled from Singapore, but with poor audio and video quality. So, the vendors have advised their eager customers to wait for copies from China.

"Once this movie hits China," said one vendor, "I think there will be a way for us to see it with much better quality."

[Thanks to HELEN BOLTON at Megastar (UK), and to this is Nottingham (UK).]
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