Why the people of Burma are risking jail to catch a glimpse of Rambo

Rambo star Sly Stallone may not be to everyone’s taste. But on the streets of Rangoon, people are willing to risk jail just to catch a glimpse of the ageing action hero as he takes on the junta.

Despite efforts by the Burmese authorities to ban the Stallone’s recently released movie, Rambo 4, reports suggest there an underground trade in downloaded versions of the film in which he rescues missionaries from the clutches of the military.

While cinemas are prevented from showing the film, the downloaded version - burned onto DVDs - is being passed around by groups of trusted friends. “Some of the video rental shops have put up a sign that reads ‘ We don't have a copy of Rambo 4 released in USA on January 25’, as many people continue to ask for it,” one Rangoon resident told the Indian-based website Mizzima.

Stallone’s fourth adventure as the action hero was shot along the Thai-Burmese border and features the Vietnam War veteran coming out of retirement to rescue Christian missionaries abducted by the authorities while supplying supplies to the ethnic Karen, who have long been the victims of clashes and attacks from government troops.

While political activists both inside and outside of Burma have celebrated the film for revealing the brutality of the junta, the Rangoon resident said that many people were confused as to whether the film was fictional or portrayed genuine events.

Either way, the 61-year-old actor, who first portrayed the mentally unstable veteran John J Rambo in 1982, recently claimed the film was inspiring people to take action against the Burmese regime and had prompted a backlash from the government. He also said that two of the film’s Burmese-born actors had told him that members of their families had been arrested in apparent retribution for their participation in the movie.

Watch the Rambo 4 trailer

“Either live for something, die for nothing - it’s your choice,” he told reporters. “Students have now used this film as a rallying point and are using the quote, thinking maybe the American military will intervene and save them.”

In true Rambo fashion, he also issued a challenge to the junta. “If they think this movie is a fantasy, I welcome the opportunity to let me come over there and walk around the country without armed guards following me every inch of the way,” he said.

As many as 30 people are believed to have been killed by troops and police last September when tens of thousands of citizens, led by Buddhist monks, held a series of pro-democracy marches in cities across the country. A recent report by Amnesty International said the authorities were still holding at least 1,850 political prisoners, including about 700 arrested during the junta’s crackdown.