Sunday, July 19, 2009

AAIFF ’09: No Joke Burma (Short)

Comedy is a tough business. When an act goes over, comedians say they “killed,” but when it falls flat, they say they “died out there.” Such expressions are uncomfortably fitting in Burma, where two members of Moustache Brothers comedy troupe served five years in prison for poking fun at the SPDC military regime while performing at the home of Nobel Prize-winning opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi. Li-Anne Huang introduces viewers to these principled men of mirth in her short documentary film No Joke Burma, which screens at the upcoming Asian American International Film Festival.

You sort of have to be there to appreciate the Moustache Brothers’ humor. In this case, “there” is their home, where the Moustaches remain under house arrest. Proving their pettiness, the (mis)ruling military tyrants have actually altered the city drainage system in order to flood the Moustaches’ house whenever it rains. Yet the Moustaches persist, using humor to keep their morale up.

Huang captures the spirit that made the Moustache Brothers the unlikely faces of Burma’s oppressed artistic community. Incidentally, they do indeed refer to their country as Burma, not Myanmar. Though they have been known to tease western tourists, they also seem favorably disposed to America, particularly Lu Maw, who shows a fascination with American slang.

As a “Meet the Moustaches” style short, No Joke is timely and illuminating. Given her access, one hopes Huang recorded more footage for a future feature-length documentary. Despite international condemnation of Suu Kyi’s house arrest, Americans are tragically ignorant of the nature of the SPDC, which came to power after quashing the popular 8888 Uprising against the Burma Socialist Programme Party. While its running time clocks in just under fifteen minutes, No Joke is still a good, informative start. It screens as part of AAIFF’s “Life on the Edge” program of shorts this coming Saturday (7/25).