Wai Bhone is trying to finish his first theatrical film. He’s got an artistic gangster movie in mind, but his producer just wants a film in the can and for it to come in on or, preferably, under budget. At the same time, Wai is struggling to make ends meet, especially when his wife loses her job when the bank she works at goes into bankruptcy. It’s then that Wai’s brother in law suggests a radical solution to their money woes.
Maung Sun’s directorial debut is fairly bursting with ideas. There’s a Burmese Bowfinger here, as the early going sees him struggling with locations he hasn’t entirely got permission to use and his brother in law’s propensity for actually punching people, and cameras, when doing stunts, as well as a censor who insists that he cut the swearing and sex scene, and completely change his ending. But that’s hardly all the film contains: there’s domestic drama, a miniature heist movie and a vein of satire that pulls Wai’s real life ever closer to the movie he’s trying to make. It’s fun, but it’s also a lot, and some of the elements work better than others. After the injection of energy of the heist sequence, some of that goes out of the film again as it settles back into the more domestic story and a subplot, quickly shunted aside, where Wai has to get job back when his producer hands it on to a more experienced director.
The behind the scenes stuff is often quite funny, but one can’t help but think that some of it will play better for local audiences, or those who know more about Burmese cinema than most Western viewers are likely to. The heist sequence works well, and it’s where film cliches and Wai’s real life begin melding to amusing effect. A clever thread, quite subtly drawn out to begin with, has the film we’re watching take on the characteristics of the notes given on Wai’s screenplay in the very first scene.
Sun and his cast seem to be having fun here and, scattered as that can make the film, it’s also a feeling that translates as we get carried along by the ramshackle, but entertaining, twists in the plot. It would be interesting to know what the contributions of ‘script consultant’ Michel Hazanavicius were, but the film overall definitely gives the impression of being very much a Burmese, and further a personal, work. All in all, there are enough good things here that I’m looking forward to seeing what Sun does next.