may have just announced its imminent return to Burma, but China maintains a
chokehold on its client state’s closed economy.
Such is the situation an expatriate construction worker finds on his homecoming. Regardless of potential political
liberalizations, economic opportunities remain few and far between in Midi Z’s Return to Burma (trailer here), which screens
during the 2012 Los Angeles Film Festival.
years of working and saving in Taipei, Wang Xing-hong is returning home. He had planned to travel with his co-worker
Rong, but instead he will carry his countryman’s ashes. Transferring from bus to bus he hears the saccharine
radio jingles proclaiming the promise of progress through new elections. Yet, he arrives home to the same depressed
provincial town, except now maybe even more so.
between Taiwan and Burma is an expensive and complicated proposition. Clearly, Wang would prefer to stay and put
down roots. Simultaneously, his sporadically
employed younger brother is about to leave for Malaysia in search of work. The fact the neighboring country offers
greater opportunity than the more richly resource-endowed Burma is a testament
to decades of government mismanagement and plunder. Yet, that is the state of things.
pseudo-characters of Return are a lot
like New Yorkers compulsively discussing comparative rents and maintenance fees
at a dinner party. Viewers will leave
knowing the market wage for just about every form of manual labor in the
country as well as the start-up cost for numerous small service
proprietorships. The lesson is clear—do not
relocate to Burma. By the way, Midi Z
and his colleagues obviously call it Burma and not Myanmar, unlike the military
junta and the legacy media.
surreptitiously on the streets of Yangon and Mandalay, with non-professional
actors kind of-sort of playing themselves, Return
is the first domestically produced Burmese feature (evidently ever). It was also more or less illegal. Perhaps not surprisingly, it is closely akin stylistically
to the Digital Generation school of independent Chinese filmmakers. Deliberate and observational rather than
action-driven or chatty, the film is really all about conveying the experience
of Burma’s underclass—and that includes everyone except the top military and
It is probably a small miracle the Burma-born
Taiwan-based Midi Z and his crew-members were not imprisoned during the Return shoot. They earn considerable kudos for vividly
capturing the atmosphere of Burma. There
are times when you can practically smell the humid night air. Still, the languid pace and hardscrabble
living conditions have a rather claustrophobic effect. It is a worthy but wearying look inside the isolated
society. Recommended for dedicated Burma
watchers (but not necessarily casual connoisseurs of Asian cinema), Return to Burma screens this Friday
(6/22) and Saturday (6/23) as an International Showcase selection of the 2012
LA Film Fest.
Labels: Burma, Burmese Cinema, LAFF '12, Midi Z