Money Has Four Legs (ခြေလေးချောင်း, Maung Sun, 2020)

In an opening conversation with the local censor, ambitious director Wai Bhone (Okkar) is cautioned that his film has too much smoking in it which might set a bad example for the young, same goes for drinking. Also, there’s too much swearing, perhaps he could opt for a less offensive substitute such as “futhermucker” for instance, it’s important to show how polite Burmese people are after all. Best to cut the sex scene too. As for the ending, well, that’s non-starter better insert some stuff about how wonderful the police are and make sure the hero either turns himself in or is killed because crime can’t pay when it comes to the movies! As the “conversation” ends, the censor picks up a hefty copy of the 1996 Motion Picture Law and uses it to swat a fly which is rather like what’s just happened to poor Wai Bhone who was just trying to add a little contemporary swagger to the umpteenth remake of a popular gangster movie from 1940. 

To one degree or another, director Maung Sun will break almost all of these rules in meta satire Money Has Four Legs (ခြေလေးချောင်), Wai Bhone receiving a dirty look from an earnest nurse when visiting a friend in the hospital, a cigarette seen briefly in his hand as captured from behind. Set in a Myanmar on the verge of a coup, Sun’s film takes place in a world in a state of collapse in which power cuts are commonplace, banks are going bankrupt, and hypocrisy rules yet all Wai Bhone really wants to do is make art even if everyone keeps telling him it’s pointless. More than political strife Wai Bhone finds himself trapped by the legacy of his filmmaker father whose award, topped with a valuable gold star, sits on top of his bookcase. A neighbour even at one point stops Wai Bhone in the street to tell him he’s not a patch on his dad while warning him not to “destroy the original stories” because “we must safeguard the dignity of our film industry”. 

Even Wai Bhone’s producer Tin Htut tells him that he only gave him the job out of loyalty to his father, but if anyone’s in danger of damaging the dignity of the Burmese film industry it isn’t Wai Bhone. Having shot a series of cheap straight to video flicks, this is Wai Bhone’s first shot at a commercial feature but as he explains to his brother-in-law it’s another remake of popular 40s gangster tale Bo Aung Din, “every remake made money so the producers are fond of it”. Meanwhile, his leading actress complains the lines are “too long” to remember so she’s written them on her hand to read out robotically, the lead actor hardly ever comes to set because he’s also starring in another much better movie, and no one has time to get a permit for shooting so sometimes you might need to hop a wall or two “for art”. If all that weren’t enough, Wai Bhone foolishly casts his brother-in-law Zaw Myint as an extra despite knowing of his tendency for random and unnecessary violence, something which comes back to bite him when he ignores the cinematographer’s advice that his sudden decision to switch to close quarters handheld for a combat scene is likely dangerous. Zaw Myint breaks the hideously expensive camera landing him with yet another debt and the prospect of being out of a job. 

The film’s title is itself an ironic joke which links back to Wai Bhone’s daughter watching a bootleg copy of the animated Animal Farm he ironically picked up for a pittance at the market. Humans have two legs (good), but money has four (bad). No matter how fast you run after it you’ll never catch up, and if it’s chasing you there’ll be no escape. Money is in a sense at the route of all Wai Bhone’s troubles in that it places a strain on his relationship with his wife Seazir (Khin Khin Hsu) who had a steady job at the bank until it went bust in the midst of a money laundering scandal, while his rent is so overdue that his landlady’s already started showing the apartment to prospective new tenants. Wai Bhone wants to make “art” but he can’t do that given the repressive censorship regime of contemporary Myanmar. Meanwhile he still uses money as a marker of success, judging himself for his inability to make it as they find themselves raiding their daughter’s savings account while struggling to pay for the cram school classes she wanted to enrol in because all her friends are going. 

For all of these reasons, he finds himself stepping into the world of film in embodying the figure of Bo Aung Di complete with bandana and fake pistols as he lets Zaw Myint talk him into a “bank heist” mopping up some of that leftover cash his wife mentioned before someone else gets there first only for the bank manager to end up making off with some of it himself while a baying mob hammer at the doors wanting to know what they’re supposed to do now their savings have been sucked into a black hole of impropriety. Wai Bhone only starts to gain a foothold by blackmailing his producer over his affair with the talentless actress, Tin Htut keen to stress that he’s only giving him his job back because he thinks the way he makes films is “artistic” despite having scolded him earlier that films are only successful when they make money so you have to give the audience what they want advising him to cut the action and add more “love scenes” which the censor of course told him to include only as “symbolism”. Wai Bhone really can’t win but despite his foray into crime retains his good heart, temporarily pausing his heist to take an injured dog to the vet, and in the ironic conclusion literally committing a radical act of wealth redistribution as a Buddhist song on the radio sings of wretches getting rich while Wai Bhone if accidentally shares his merits with everyone. 


Money Has Four Legs screened as part of this year’s BFI London Film Festival

Original trailer English subtitles

Bo Aung Din is also available to stream via YouTube though in poor quality and without subtitles

MEKONG 2030 (Kulikar Sotho, Anysay Keola, Sai Naw Kham, Anocha Suwichakornpong, Pham Ngoc Lân, 2020)

Literally on the shores of an ecological crisis, the communities along the Mekong River know better than most the dangers of climate change and increasing industrialisation. Commissioned by the Luang Prabang Film Festival, MEKONG 2030 takes its cues from the recent “ten years” phenomenon, bringing together five directors from different nations along the Mekong to imagine what the situation might be in a decade’s time. 

Environmental concerns and changing times are clearly at the forefront of Cambodian director Kulikar Sotho’s Soul River in which Klark, an indigenous huntsman, discovers an ancient statue in the forest and determines to sell it to buy a better future for himself and his wife having lost everything in a flood caused by deforestation and the affects of increasing industrialisation. Unfortunately he is challenged by Sok, a former fisherman forced onto the land due to the lack of fish in the river, who claims to be the land’s owner and insists the statue is his. An amusing stand off, Klark’s machete vs Sok’s walkie-talkie, signals their respective positions as avatars of new and old. Nevertheless, the statue is too heavy for one man to carry and so they agree to work together, occasionally quibbling over their respective cuts and irritating Klark’s conflicted wife Ladet whose premonition that the statue is cursed is well and truly borne out as the two men begin to lose themselves in greed and suspicion. Yet as her closing voice over reminds us their sin is emblematic of their times in their irresponsible and arrogant desire to “sell” their nation’s ancestral treasures, be they forests, rivers, or statues the protection of which should have been their only duty. 

Depleting fish stocks and industrial pollution are also a persistent theme in the entry from Laos as a worried sister explains to her student brother concerned to see nets covered in dust on his return home from university. Xe is worried because his sister has a bruise on her face and seems to have separated from her husband and children she says to look after their mother who, as it turns out, is immune to the ongoing plague and therefore a valuable commodity to those hoping to find a vaccine. The bruise was apparently caused when their older brother, who has since become a warlord, kidnapped mum in order to monopolise her exploitation. The sister wants Xe to kidnap her back, but the deeper he gets into this awkward situation the more conflicted Xe feels knowing that whatever is actually going on both of his siblings are in effect determined to bleed his mother dry for economic gain. 

The precarious position of the older generation and the side effects of industrialisation raise their heads again in chapter three, Myanmar’s The Forgotten Voices of the Mekong in which well-meaning young village chief Charlie determines to “modernise” his community by inviting a mining conglomerate to begin digging gold on their land. An old grandma patiently teaching her grandson to care for the local herb grown for its medicinal properties is the voice of opposition, pointing out that there is nothing wrong with their lives as they are and so she feels they don’t need the complications of the “modernity” Charlie is determined to bring them. He tells her that he’s the chief now and so they’ll do as he says and so she calmly walks out of the meeting, but her animosity is soon vindicated when farmers complain their livestock has been poisoned after drinking water contaminated by the mine. Not long after a child is taken ill. Devils devour everything, but there is something we can do the old woman assures her grandson: make the mountains green again. 

Shifting into a more abstract register, Anocha Suwichakornpong’s Thai entry The Line takes the river as a protagonist through the film within the film playing on a gallery wall though apparently in some way unsatisfying to its creator. Speaking in a robotic Mandarin, the video places an ironic voiceover on top of images of the river and the city juxtaposing an incongruous family history with a vision of modernity. Meanwhile, a young intern makes smalltalk with her temporary bosses who seem to have no time for her about a weird animal captured on camera in the river near her hometown, and the artist explains her intention of dramatising a vision of space and time through the story of the river.  

The sense of the Mekong as liquid time recurs in the final instalment, Vietnam’s The Unseen River, in which two stories, one of youth and the other age, run in parallel. While a young couple make a visit to a temple hoping to find a cure for the boy’s restless sleep, a middle-aged woman catches sight of a somehow familiar dog that serendipitously reunites her with her long-absent first love who went abroad to study shortly before they dammed the river. In a piece of possibly unhelpful advice, the old monk tells the young man that all he needs to do is “believe” in the act of sleeping. Sinking into a deep sleep is like surrendering yourself to the current he explains, directly linking the rythms of life to the river while the young monk attributes their youthful llistlessness, the failure to see a future that has prevented the young couple marrying, to the inability to dream. The river is both past and future, dream and reality. It is disconnection with the natural world which has so affected the young man, something he perhaps repairs borrowing the monk’s decommissioned fishing rod to gaze upon the wide river under the light of the moon. 

Giving voice to the anxieties of climate change, overdevelopment, the unequal power dynamics of large corporations operating in rural communities, the erosion of traditional culture, and the loss of the natural world, MEKONG 2030 issues a strong warning against ecological complacency but also rediscovers a kind of serenity in the river’s eternal presence even as it is perhaps flowing away from us. 


MEKONG 2030 streamed as part of this year’s San Diego Asian Film Festival. Readers in Poland will also have the opportunity to stream MEKONG 2030 as part of the 14th Five Flavours Film Festival 25th November to 6th December.

Original trailer (English subtitles)