Amka is a young boy living in a Mongolian town with his older brother and younger sister. After the tragic accident that claimed the life of his parents, and that his older brother blames himself for, Amka has found himself the sole responsible one in the household, making sure they all have water, food and money from his day jobs of collecting recycling or doing errands for other people. His singular focus on family duty is interrupted, however, when one day he finds a coin worth a significant amount of money.
Flush with cash, Amka begins spending it on himself, buying flash clothes that catch the eye of the other young boys, who finally invite him to play soccer. Hanging with his new friends, who also introduce him to the joys of pay-by-the-hour computer gaming, Amka runs through his new fortune quickly, all the while ignoring his household duties. When his money runs out, Amka starts borrowing from his friends, and, when unable to pay them back, and upon realizing that he has let down his sister and brother, Amka retreats to the countryside to live with his uncle and get his life in proper balance.
Babar Ahmed’s Amka and the Three Golden Rules is a charming film about responsibility and growing up. As Amka makes mistake after mistake, it’s hard to get too down on the boy because, well, he is just a child. Forced by life to take on more than most, it doesn’t mean he is ready to leave his childhood behind.
Which is where his uncle comes in. Reverent of the Mongolian traditions of old, his uncle is forced to fill the shoes of parent for Amka when no one else has. Amka is not a bad boy by any stretch, he’s just out of balance and lacking guidance. Frankly, his older brother and younger sister are too, and Amka’s financial failings actually serve to jumpstart the entire family; finding that coin being the best and worst thing that could happen to any of them.
The film is visually crisp and often breathtaking. Its composition is strong, and the pacing of the film is spot-on. It’s not rapid-fire, by any means, but it properly conveys Amka’s journey from responsible by necessity to irresponsible by want to responsible by choice in a natural way. Nothing is contrived here, and even uncle’s lessons, while simple, are given their strength more by how Amka interprets them than by what is necessarily being said.
Overall, Amka and the Three Golden Rules is a pleasant tale, layered with life lessons obvious and then less so. It’s a story about personal responsibility, family, friends and more. Often a subtle affair, you don’t realize how much you got out of it until long after it has ended.
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