Her father has risen to the top of a military that once suffocated Myanmar’s filmmakers by imposing strict censorship. Now, Khin Thiri Thet Mon is sparing no expense in an effort to propel her business to the top of the country’s newly revived movie industry.
The 7th Sense Film Production company, co-founded by Senior General Min Aung Hlaing’s daughter, has quickly gained a reputation as one of the biggest spenders in motion picture production.
Likewise, the commander-in-chief’s daughter-in-law, Myo Radana Htaik, has vastly outspent her rivals producing TV series and hosting beauty pageants at the Stellar Seven Entertainment Company, also founded in 2017.
The women, both 37, are believed to have invested billions of kyats, or several million US dollars, in their new enterprises, leaving some puzzled by their newfound interest in the creative industries.
According to Wai Minn Maung, who is on 7th Sense’s board of directors and one of its four co-founders, Khin Thiri Thet Mon entered the film production business not in search of profits but because of a passion for the arts.
“We joined hands because we have the same artistic mind,” he told Myanmar Now, referring to his decision to work with her and the other co-founders.
If Khin Thiri Thet Mon was hoping to indulge her passion for cinema by travelling to Hollywood, she’ll be disappointed; as the daughter of Min Aung Hlaing she was recently banned from entering the US.
Last month the US State Department slapped the travel restrictions on four senior military officials and their immediate family in response to a crackdown against the Rohingya in Rakhine state, which US officials have branded ethnic cleansing.
The military vehemently denies that charge and says the crackdown was a legitimate response to attacks on police posts by the Arakan Rohingya Salvation Army, a group it labels terrorists.
Aryani Manring, a spokesperson for the US embassy in Yangon, told Myanmar Now that the travel ban includes “the spouses and children of the four Burmese military officials” but did not elaborate as to whether it also included sons and daughters-in-law.
‘Clinging to Hate’
7th Sense’s most successful title to date is the Myanmar Academy Award-winning movie Mone Swal, or Clinging to Hate, which aired in movie theaters continuously for over two months due to popular demand.
The commander-in-chief himself went to a theatre in Nay Pyi Taw to see the film, a Buddhist drama about human attachment, hatred and reincarnation, said Wai Minn Maung.
It is one of eight movies that the company has churned out for the big screen in the past two years.
While most newcomers to Myanmar’s film industry struggle to finance one film per year, 7th Sense rivals long-standing companies on the amount of investment it pours into its productions. Movie industry insiders told Myanmar Now that the company pays its actors above market rates and easily outspends rivals on production budgets.
The company’s average budget for one film ranges from 2.5 to four hundred million kyats ($160,000 to $260,000), and Mone Swal cost about three hundred million kyats to produce, said Wai Minn Maung, who previously worked as a football commentator for the MRTV-4 television channel.
In early July, the company signed exclusive contracts with five actors, including two of Myanmar’s biggest movie stars, Nay Toe and Wut Hmone Shwe Yi. Nay Toe, who is the highest paid actor in the industry, has previously earned between 30 and 50 million kyats per film. His contract with the company now offers him 70 million kyats (roughly $46,000) per film with an agreement to shoot six to eight titles a year.
The company is also pursuing international markets. It has hired actors from Korea, Japan and Thailand to act alongside local stars for a film that will begin shooting in October and should be released in countries outside of Myanmar. The shoot will have a budget twice as big as usual, said Wai Minn Maung.
The company’s liberal spending has led to rumours in the film industry, which Myanmar Now could not independently verify, that investors are using the venture to launder money. In response, Wai Minn Maung says he doesn’t pay any mind to criticism from outsiders and that it is more important to be virtuous.
“The criticism will subside gradually as they realize we invest in the production because we are capable, love the arts and can focus on our creations,” he said.
The 7th Sense Film Production Company, headquartered in Yangon’s Yankin township, has three directors on its board besides Khin Thiri Thet Mon, who are also co-founders. They are: Wai Minn Maung, Naing Phyo Kyaw and San Ko Ko Tint San.
Khin Thiri Thet Mon – known to close friends as Ma Thiri – is seldom seen at company events. Her main roles involve advising on costume design and recommending novels that could be adapted into films, said Wai Minn Maung, adding that she is also involved in the company’s finances.
Wai Minn Maung manages the company’s daily operations.
And along with Naing Phyo Kyaw, his friend, he also manages a company named Myanmar Media Seven, which produces TV series, and a music production company called V7 Entertainment. The companies’ names all contain his lucky number.
San Ko Ko Tint San is the son of former sports minister Tint San and the younger brother of Phyo Ko Ko Tint San, who drew national attention in 2017 when he was arrested at Nay Pyi Taw airport after being caught carrying a stash of guns, bullets and drugs. San Ko Ko Tint San, also called Ko San consults on story ideas and music scores at the company.
Naing Phyo Kyaw is in charge of financial management and tasked with selling the company’s productions to theatres in foreign markets. He is also the vice president of Green Circle Company, which produces VeVe beverages. His sister is the beauty queen Moe Set Wine, who won the Miss Universe Myanmar title in 2013.
Donations to journalists
Myo Radana Htaik, the wife of Min Aung Hlaing’s son Aung Pyae Sone, founded the Stellar Seven Entertainment Company Limited in January 2017 and is the only person on the board of directors, according to data from the Directorate of Investment and Company Administration.
The firm has hosted the Miss Myanmar International beauty pageant every year since then, and has produced a series for TV.
It also spent four hundred million kyats ($260,000) in April on organising the Star Awards, a glitzy ceremony for TV and film stars hosted by the Myanmar Journalists Association, according to a senior member of the association who spoke on condition of anonymity.
The association did not have to contribute anything to the ceremony’s budget, which was well over double the 150 million kyats that, for example, organisers of the Myanmar Motion Picture Academy Awards spend each year.
Shortly after the Star Awards ceremony in early May, Stellar Seven donated 30 million kyats (just under $20,000) to the association.
Photos posted on the company’s social media show Myo Radana Htaik handing the donation to Win Nyein, chief editor of Shwe Amyu Tay Magazine.
When Myanmar Now asked the editor what the donation was for, he replied with one word: “Funds.”
Authors ‘turn down movie deals’
Wai Minn Maung says that the family backgrounds of 7th Sense’s directors do not have an impact on how the business is run.
“We don’t care about who comes from where. When we make decisions to produce a film, our main concern is whether the film will benefit the audience,” he said. “We make decisions based on our love of the arts, regardless of where we come from.”
But the owners’ family background has reportedly led to some hiccups. A source who is close to well-known fiction writers told Myanmar Now a number of authors passed up on the chance to have their books adapted to the big screen because the company is tied to the military.
“Some authors refused to… when they made an offer, the authors didn’t set a price but simply said they would think about it,” the source said.
“Then they just don’t reply.”