Monday, 22 February 2010

My one brush with Hollywood - Beyond Rangoon

I came across this on YouTube, a film a few Malaysian actor friends and I did around 1993, directed by John Boorman, best known for his feature films such as Point Blank, Deliverance, Excalibur, Hope and Glory, The General and Zardoz.

Beyond Rangoon is a 1995 drama film directed by John Boorman about Laura Bowman (played by Patricia Arquette), an American tourist who vacations in Burma (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.

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 dictators of the State Law and Order Restoration Council (SLORC), and attempt to escape to Thailand.

The film was an official selection at the 1995 Cannes Film Festival, where it was one of the popular hits of the event.[1]


Beyond Rangoon opened my eyes to the way films SHOULD be made. I spent weeks on the set, roaming around the various departments in between filming, looking at how they made sets, organized the production of thousands of costumes, studied how the continuity sheets were so detailed compared to ours, studying how they organized production logistics etc which was such an eye-opener for me and interviewed a whole bunch of people who headed all the different departments so I'd understand how they all came together.

Since then, I dreamed of someday producing a film of a similiar-ish scale, that's how Puteri Gunung Ledang came about. I spent days talking to John Boorman about films and why he did the films he did. He wasn't the most chatty person, to be honest, and he seemed to be quite a headstrong type who only made films that he wanted to make, regardless of commercial value, but every bit of info was like pearls of wisdom for me and I absorbed what I could in the short time I had with John.

If you read the cast credit list, you will notice my name is credited as "desk clerk and San San". What happened is that, I was originally hired to play the role of the hotel desk clerk who tells Laura Bowman (Patricia Arquette) off for breaking curfew. Well, after I did my 2 days of shoot for the role, John Boorman asked me if I could audition for another role, the role of one of the university students, San San. I did, of course, and a few weeks later I found myself on set in Ipoh, my face painted dark brown with number 9 foundation so I wouldn't look like the hotel desk clerk, ha ha.

Teong Hin and I heard that John was in Venice when we were there with Puteri Gunung Ledang, and arranged to meet John for coffee and a catch up at his hotel, which was nice, some 10 years after Beyond Rangoon.


Boorman won the Best Director Award at the 1998 Cannes Film Festival for The General,[2] his black-and-white biopic of Martin Cahill. The film is about the somewhat glamorous, yet mysterious, criminal in Dublin who was killed, apparently by the Provisional Irish Republican Army.

His most recent film, The Tiger's Tail, is set in contemporary Ireland.

Boorman's next project will be a fictional account of the life of Roman Emperor Hadrian (entitled Memoirs of Hadrian), written in the form of a letter from a dying Hadrian to his successor. The film is slated for a 2010 release. Antonio Banderas was initially in talks to be cast as Hadrian, but it is now believed that Daniel Craig will take on the role instead.

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