White Mulberry Award for First Time Director Nominee
Money Has Four Legs
Myanmar, 2020, 100’, Burmese
Directed by: Maung Sun
Screenplay: Maung Sun, Ma Aeint
Photography (color): Thaiddhi
Editing: Myo Min Khin
Production Design: Lone Lone Kavan
Costumes: Yupar Mo Mo
Music: Ko Ko, Lone Lone Kavan, Eastern Scorpio
Sound: D.R.E.A.M. Sound Works
Producers: Maung Sun, Ma Aeint
Production Company: Electronic Pictures Production
Cast: Okkar Dat Khe, (Wai Bhone), Ko Thu (Zaw Myint), Khin Khin Hsu (Seazir), Hein Thiri San (Meemi), Phay Thadi (producer Tin Htut), Hane Latt (censor)
Date of First Release in Territory: TBA
Our hearts go out to the Burmese people oppressed by the coup, and this heartfelt sentiment coincides with the presence at FEFF of a film that, as a caption in the opening credits warns, celebrates 100 years of Burmese cinema. Money Has Four Legs is an unabashedly cinephile comedy, into which first-time director Maung Sun has poured an autobiographical element inspired by his life as an independent filmmaker. It is no coincidence that the film opens with the lead, director Wai Bhone (Okkar Dat Khe), listening to a monologue by a censorship official: too much smoking, too many swear words, too much sex, bad guys must turn themselves in or die in the end, a pro-police message is needed – after which the censor kills a fly by swatting it with the 1996 Motion Picture Law.
Wai Bhone is a young director, the son of an award-winning deceased master of film-making, struggling with his first feature film after some straight-to-video flicks. He is shooting a remake of a classic 1940s Burmese gangster film, Bo Aung Din (which was directed by Shwe Done Bi Aung, with Khin Maung Yin in the title role). Wai is up to his neck in both personal and professional woes: his family is penniless, but his wife Sleazir (Khin Khin Hsu) wants to send their daughter Meemi to private school; on set, in addition to problems with censorship (the eternal scourge of Burmese cinema), the actors do what they want, there are no location permits, and Wai is in a dispute with the producer – who’s the lover of a talentless actress – who is demanding more love scenes because they cost less than action ones. Worse, his brother-in-law, Zaw Myint (Ko Thu), a drunken ex-con cast as an extra, breaks his camera, and Wai doesn’t know how to pay to replace it.
In desperation, Wai decides to join Zaw in robbing a bank that is about to close down after having dried up the money of its account holders. No need to list all the tragicomic events that ensue. The ending with the money flying away has a flavour of Mario Monicelli’s Big Deal on Madonna Street (as everyone knows, the poor people’s heists never succeed). It is a smart move to juxtapose this scene in parallel editing with the Buddhist ritual that takes place at the same time to bless the house: the prayer on the sharing of merits also applies to these banknotes scattered in the street and collected by people. Many banknotes also end up in the river water: the meaninglessness of desire in the gently ironic form of this film in which references to Buddhism are liberally scattered.
Michel Hazanavicius (The Artist) is credited as script consultant. In keeping with the cinematic setting, the story dips its toe into a couple of tasty meta-narrative jokes. At one point, for instance, we see the “ending,” complete with a freeze-frame of the leading man and credits starting to roll – but only to disappear immediately, because a phone call comes in, the film resumes, and the story continues for another 15 minutes. With repeated use of songs as commentary on the situation (but the funniest involves the play Ramayana), the film has a certain cordiality in its simplicity; it is a delight to watch and appreciate the details, including the fleeting glimpse of the protagonist’s neighbours. Thaiddhi’s beautiful, non-lyrical cinematography realistically depicts a poor and over-crowded Rangoon.
Maung Sun started his career as an animator and then began writing screenplays. He says that Money Has Four Legs, his first film, is inspired by his experiences as an independent filmmaker in Myanmar. The film had its world premiere at the 25th Busan International Film Festival in 2020 and was also screened at Helsinki Cineasia in 2021.
2020 – Money Has Four Legs