A recently completed film made for European TV, Twilight over Myanmar, based on the true story of Prince Sao Kya Seng, the ruler of Hsipaw and his Austrian born wife Inge Sargent, had its premiere in the northern Thai city of Chiang Mai this past weekend. The story focuses on Sargent who became the princess of Hsipaw also known as the Mahadhevi Dhusandi and her marriage with the prince who was jailed when General Ne Win launched a coup d’état in 1962.
As the film, which is the first to explore the events surrounding Myanmar’s 1962 coup, shows Sao Kya Seng died in detention shortly after his arrest under circumstances that have never been fully explained. A similar fate suffered by Myanmar’s first president Sao Shwe Thaike, another Shan royal who was arrested in the 1962 coup, and who was also never seen alive again.
Maria Ehrich, the German actress who played Inge Sargent, was at the screening in Chiang Mai along with some of the film’s producers. Many Shan living in Chiang Mai attended the screening including some who played minor roles in the movie. Apart from Ehrich most of the major roles in the film were played by Thai actors.
During a Q&A conducted after the screening of the movie, which takes its name from Sargent’s memoir, Ehrich explained that coming to Asia to shoot the film was an interesting experience. She added that the tragic nature of the script posed a challenge at times during production.
“It was always the tragic story in my mind so I could not be very happy all the time when we were shooting the movie. Sometimes, all the crew team had a difficult time to shoot, for example, when Inge gets to know Sao might be dead. Everyone was crying on the set. It really touches you very hard. You can see in the movie how we felt. So, it’s real,” explained the 23 year old Ehrich who has also starred in a number of German language productions including a kid’s film called My Brother Is a Dog.
Ehrich travelled to Hsipaw where much of the film is set, shortly after the film was completed to see the palace where Sargent lived. Like many visitors to Hsipaw she was saddened by the poor condition that the dilapidated Hsipaw palace is in. “In my mind I had already imagined Hsipaw, I was eager to see how it really is. My heart was really checking when we got close to it. We went up to the palace and talked with the person who is in charge. I told her that Inge did not take anything with her when she left and I’d really like to take something to give her but she said there is nothing left. The Burmese military took everything. I almost cried. I was really shocked because
I thought it would be beautiful from what I knew from the script and the book, but it is not. It’s a little dirty and rotted……. It really made me sad”, she said.
Inge Sargent eventually resettled in the US where she has lived for many years. She and her two daughters, Sao Mayari and Sao Kennari, wrote a letter to Myanmar’s government concerning the disappearance of Sao Kya Seng. They never received a response to their inquiries.
Myanmar’s newly installed consul-general in Chiang Mai Kaung San Lwin, also attended the screening. He told SHAN that he did not know about Inge Sargent’s letter and was unaware of the specific details of the case which he said took place before he was born.
It remains unclear when the movie will receive its Myanmar premier but the movie which almost certainly would have been banned in Myanmar had it come out a few years ago, will likely receive a much better reception under the new NLD government.
But some things have yet to change. Today more than 50 years after the 1962 coup, turmoil continues in northern Shan State where the army in recent weeks has been engaged in clashes with ethnic armed groups including carrying out airstrikes against positions held by the Shan State Progress Party/Shan State Army (SSPP/SSA).