Long Awaited Film on Burma’s First Airplane Hijacking Premieres This Month

By Yu Mon Kyaw 17 February 2016

RANGOON — The premiere of “With the Dawn: Burma’s Hijack,” which is based on a 62-year-old true story, was shown to special guests and the press at Rangoon’s Thamada Cinema on Sunday and will be screened for the public later this month.

The film was based on Burma’s June 1954 hijacking when Major Saw Kyaw Aye and two other members of the Karen National Defense Organization (KNDO) took control of a Dakota passenger plane en route to Sittwe from Rangoon.

The KNDO had formed in opposition to the Burmese government, campaigning for the liberation of Karen State. As it needed weapons to support its revolution, the group plotted a hijacking scheme to retrieve a suspected store of abandoned Japanese weapons from the mountains of Karen State.

The KNDO members were unable to complete the mission due to a lack of fuel, and instead landed in Arakan State’s Gwa Township. On board the airplane were 14 passengers and four airline staff. The hijackers escaped with a small amount of cash.

Saw Kyaw Aye, now 93, was present at the advance screening of “With the Dawn,” but did not speak highly of the project, which took nearly three years to complete.

“I’m not very satisfied with the film, especially the fighting scenes,” he complained. “They might have done their best, but I think it is not enough. Again, there are many supporting roles in the films and am not very satisfied with the plot.”

He told The Irrawaddy in 2013 that he hoped any re-telling of the hijacking would be understood in the context of the ethnic Karen struggle against long term repression.

Antony, the film’s director, told The Irrawaddy that the movie has political significance for Burma today.

“Now, we have got a good leader and the armed groups should cooperate with that leader,” he said. “We ourselves have gone through the miseries of war. I do not want the people to suffer anymore. This is the message I want to give the people and the armed groups,” he said.

Saw Kyaw Aye, after the hijacking incident, began working as a peacemaker between the Burma government and the Karen forces, something which Antony found noteworthy.

“I want other armed group members to enter the legal fold like Major Saw Kyaw Aye and join hands in nation building, because our country has lagged much behind the others,” said Antony.

Sai Lian, a new face in Burma’s cinema, plays the role of Saw Kyaw Aye. “I’ve met Major Saw Kyaw Aye and read the novel [based on the hijacking] several times,” he said. “My favorite scene is threatening to defuse the bomb on the plane.”

“With the Dawn” is scheduled for a public screening on February 26.

The director said that he plans to show the film—which was shot in Kyaik Don, Karen State—in other ASEAN countries, including Thailand, after screening it in Burma.

Translated by Thet Ko Ko.