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Three 52 minute video programs / college - adult
Produced by Adrian Cowell with WGBH/Frontline

Essential viewing for anyone interested in the history of the narcotics trade and the War on Drugs. In 1964, director Adrian Cowell ("THE DECADE OF DESTRUCTION") and cameraman Chris Menges ("THE KILLING FIELDS") went to the mountainous Shan region of eastern Burma to film the emerging Shan revolutionary forces in their bloody civil war against the fascist military dictatorship. The impoverished Shans had only one way to finance their war of liberation - opium. Cowell has returned to Shan State several times over the last 30 years to record the ongoing civil war and the burgeoning opium trade.

THE OPIUM CONVOYS picks up the story in the 1960s when the Burmese Army seized power in a coup sweeping aside the constitution and Parliament. The Shans who had only recently joined the Burmese Union began their war of independence. Opium was the Shan farmers' only source of ready money and the guerillas began to take 10% of the crop as tax and transported it in convoys to Thailand to buy guns. And so a deadly alliance was born.

In the 1970s, as part of Richard Nixon's War on Drugs, the US joined in an all-out attack on the convoys and, using the Thai police, sent an invitation to Lo Hsing-Han, the first "King of Opium", to negotiate an end to the opium trade, only to have him arrested and thereby ensure that the opium trade would continue unabated under the second "King of Opium", Khun Sa.

SMACK CITY examines the 30-year War on Drugs in Hong Kong, which has been the drug capital of south-east Asia for a century, ever since the Chinese ceded it to Britain to harbor the opium fleet. In Hong Kong opium was sold under a government license until the end of World War II, when Britain enforced the UN treaty against narcotics. In the 1960s Hong Kong's suppliers and addicts switched from the relatively innocuous opium to the stronger and more addictive heroin because it was easier to smuggle and quicker to consume. The film follows the fortunes of the Triad gang, which controlled the selling of heroin on one street corner. Over the years some of the gang evade the police, but others are arrested and jailed. Ah Sing tries to kick his habit but fails, and eventually dies of an overdose. The film also follows the Hong Kong police as they raid heroin factories and distribution centers in what appears to be a futile struggle, since they seldom reduce the amount of heroin reaching the gangs on the street level.

THE KINGS OF OPIUM returns to the Shans' war for independence led by Khun Sa, the second "King of Opium". In 1993 the Shan People's Representative Committee declared itself no longer part of the union of Burma and the civil war moved to a new plane of brutality that shocked the world. Lo Hsing-Han meanwhile joined the government forces and eventually brings Khun Sa to his knees, regaining control once again over the narcotics trade, but this time for the military dictatorship.

Today both men are rich and powerful, and the amount of opium produced in Shan State has increased ten-fold, flooding Europe and the United States with cheap heroin. In spite of massive US aid, no one has been brave enough to break the vicious circle that is the international drugs trade. The narcotics carousel will continue to turn, to the immense profit of everyone on board and to the intense suffering of the addicts and the Shan people.


VHS ISBN: 1-56029-676-3

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