Movies that tell the story of the filmmaking process often don’t have success. Sure, there are notable exceptions — Tarantino’s Once Upon a Time in Hollywood springs to mind — but more often than not, the self-referential, wink-nudge approach doesn’t quite work. Made in Myanmar and screening at this year’s London Film Festival, Money Has Four Legs titters between a scathing indictment of the profit-based film industry, and a slapstick comedy – and this tonal inconsistency means it never quite finds its feet.
Money Has Four Legs follows Wai Bhone (Okkar), a young filmmaker at loggerheads with his producers over his film’s direction. A remake of the 1940s gangster film Bo Aung Din, they want less swearing, less violence, and a nice, happy ending. Bhone isn’t satisfied with that, and when he’s removed from the film and left penniless, takes it into his own hands — and those of his brother-in-law Zaw Myint (Ko Thu) to resolve it.
The premise is undeniably interesting, and Money Has Four Legs works best when satirising and potraying the world of international filmmaking. Some of the film’s best scenes come as Wai deals with actors not knowing their lines, makeshift camera cranes, and thee annoyance of not having access to sets. It presents world cinema as something brimming with passion, visceral and heartfelt – entirely opposed to the viewpoint of the film’s producers. That meta commentary, around the constrictions of commercial filmmaking and the prioritisation of profit over art, is truly fascinating.
Sadly, director Maung Sun interjects these ideas with several other thematic threads that don’t land as well. Strapped of cash with rent to pay, Wai and Zaw decide to rob a bank with a prop gun, sparking a slapstick heist sequence, and a third act that mainly deals with the fallout. The set piece itself is interesting enough, but the script doesn’t dig into the ramifications: we see hints of Wai’s guilt, and Zaw disappears for a good while, but we don’t learn how the experience truly affects them.
Instead, the middle part of Money Has Four Legs meanders a little, without much happening until it picks back up towards the end. This wouldn’t be such a problem if the characters were engaging enough to carry the film, but they sadly aren’t. Wai isn’t fleshed out enough, or particularly likeable, and his wife Seazir (Khin Khin Hsu) is a little underwritten. Maung Sun gathers the pace again towards the end, with a twist involving the film’s producer, some spritely direction, and a genuinely hilarious car-chase, but that middle section leaves you wanting more.
Which is unfortunate, because the ideas behind Money Has Four Legs have, ironically, good legs behind them. The film creates such a morally murky world, where nobody is clear-cut good or bad, just doing what they need to for themselves. It’s the same concept when it addresses the film industry: Wai does what he thinks is right — pursuing his artistic desires, and following in the footsteps of his father — whereas the producers have objectives they strive for, too. It’s a fascinating tug-of-war that neither side ultimately wins, and it’s just a shame those themes aren’t explored more.
This leaves Money Has Four Legs as a film-about-films that’s worth watching, but loses its footing towards the middle. If anything, you’ll enjoy the fascinating insight into the minutiae of making a film in Myanmar, alongside some gorgeous settings and witty moments. The rest of the film just can’t quite stand up to the strength of its premise.