Burmese writer Do: Na reflects on the impact of film reviews, Myanmar’s transition to online platforms after the coup, and how social media has reshaped perspectives while elevating recognition for local films.
This article was completed under the ArtsEquator Fellowship. Views expressed are solely of the writer/creator.
Film reviews, analysis and articles are best read after watching a particular film.
This kind of retrospection can enrich an audience’s overall experience, as the facts of a narrative are articulated into insights. In contrast, the same review read before watching a film diminishes the overall experience by revealing spoilers.
In this regard, a film’s promotion media should be sufficient to entice viewers in engaging with the products of the film industry.
In Myanmar today, the film culture is vastly transformed. Once, not long ago, when the country was closed off from the rest of the world, film-goers commonly crumpled into small movie houses in their neighbourhood to watch, say, a James Bond film.
Now, everyone gets to enjoy the latest news and film reviews about Hollywood in the Burmese language – served in real time – on Facebook. Online streaming services like Netflix and others offering Korean content series are also readily available at our fingertips.
There are also foreign-film promotion pages with large local follower counts, that make it seem as if Hollywood is right around the corner.
It could pass off as a most natural occurrence until one juxtaposes this phenomenon with the reality of the post-coup attitude towards cinema.
Myanmar’s public boycott of local cinema has been ongoing for the past three years, and while it has slightly waned, remains a robust form of resistance against supporting the military rule.
Before the February 1 military coup in 2021, film reviews on the latest local films were a prime element of Myanmar’s evolving film industry.
Starting as individual notes of sorts, posted on Facebook, these film reviews sometimes propelled average local films like Deception into a considerable success, boosting their recognition and financial performance.
While it is difficult to pin down precisely the start of this trend, local film reviews have been inextricably linked to the celebrity cult around film stars and directors.
For instance, the Kyi couple—director Christian Kyi and her husband, actor Zen Kyi—are frequently hailed as the ‘new wave’ of filmmakers in Myanmar’s industry after the success of their 2018 film, Deception. The film garnered significant attention on Facebook, largely due to user posts excessively praising its virtues.
Whether Deception truly did renew Myanmar’s interest in local cinema is questionable, but those Facebook posts that boosted the film’s marketing created a formidable celebrity cult, especially surrounding the filmmaker couple. The film’s hype managed to attract even those who once proudly declared they ‘did not watch Myanmar films’ to now actively engage in the excitement.
The storyline of Deception revolves around a woman who ensnares a rich man in a marriage scam—a narrative that isn’t as ingenious as it was hyped to be.
The buzz was likely generated mainly by those who had only seen Deception among the handful of Myanmar films produced in recent times.
Many Facebook users found it trendy to write adulatory reviews for Deception, and they maintained this enthusiasm by praising other films created by the filmmaker couple behind Deception.
During the peak of this review culture, film productions started inviting Facebook celebrities and public figures to their premieres and press shows. The attendees’ ostentatious posts about the invitations, the lavish screenings, and their glowing reviews—whether voluntarily or involuntarily—significantly influenced the success of specific films. This phenomenon contributed to the revival of Myanmar cinema.
During those time, there were also cases of paid reviews as evidenced by the existence of reviews that claimed to be unpaid.
The growing interest in local Myanmar films in the years leading up to the coup would have been less impactful without the influence of film reviews on Facebook, marking yet another paradigm shift in Myanmar’s culture, particularly after the country became the world’s fourth fastest-growing mobile market in 2015.
Once, pages dedicated to film like Myanmar Movie Database (MMDB) and Audience consistently maintained their interest in Myanmar films, offering regular reviews regardless of the quality of their writing or the validity of their opinions.
The coup, however, marginalised their roles in Myanmar’s film industry: the MMDB page vanished without a trace, and Audience has shifted focus to occasionally cover international films. Similarly, Myanmar Film Review, once a fervent supporter of local cinema, has retreated, only occasionally active with sporadic posts.
Today, the majority of film-related pages written in Burmese on Facebook primarily focus on international film news. Additionally, some businesses selling online streaming accounts, like Netflix and Amazon, leverage film-related content to broaden their audience and appeal to potential local customers.
It’s more fitting to label them as film ‘related’ pages rather than specifically ‘review’ pages. For instance, pages like Cinema Boulevard and Dionola categorise their content as ‘analysis’ and ‘throwback’ essays on older films, along with various ‘articles.’ Cinema Boulevard also markets a film magazine that compiles both their posted and unpublished articles from Facebook.
However, these pages, despite critiquing international films, aren’t without issues. There was a significant conflict between Cinema Boulevard and Dionola last August over accusations of content copying and the dispute over who first posted specific content concepts.
Yet, in the grander scheme, this particular dispute pales in comparison. The originality of their content about international movies often sparks controversy since, in many instances, they draw heavily from English articles without crediting the sources—a practice largely overlooked by Myanmar film pages.
Furthermore, the tradition among Myanmar film-related pages of omitting the writer’s name from their content remains a significant issue, impacting authorship recognition.
Hopefully, as Myanmar’s political climate improves, a new era will emerge with an abundance of quality local films. These films, distinct from the mundane comedies and mediocrities that have plagued Myanmar cinemas for decades, will warrant the attention of local film writers. This, coupled with robust arts and film journalism, will pave the way for the future development of Myanmar’s film industry.
Cover image sourced from Philip Jablon / The Southeast Asia Movie Theater Project.