Amka and The Three Golden Rules

Mar 10, 2014

A memorable coming-of-age tale set in exotic Mongolia.

Amka and The Three Golden Rules

Grade: A

Director: Babar Ahmed (Genius, Sid’s Paralysis)

Screenplay: Ahmed

Cast: Genzorig Telmen, Dashnyam Maralgua

Runtime: 86 min.

by John DeSando

Acclaimed South-Asian director/writer Babar Ahmed has crafted an affecting Mongolian tale as instructive about the enduring values of an ancient culture as it is a universal story of a boy’s coming of age.  Unlike more sophisticated Western kids’ films of heroics and CGI splendor, the honest, minimalist Amka and The Three Golden Rules keeps it simple: Learn to confront three major challenges in life, “borrowing, overspending, and saving” and you will be prepared to love a life no riches could ever give you.

Ten year-old Amka, played with unalloyed realism by Ganzorig Telmen, has lost his parents and consequently his moral compass. Coming into money through the sale of found gold coin, he spends on trendy clothes to such a profligate extreme that he borrows money from friends, whom he can’t pay back. 

In this slight turmoil, Ahmed has made sure not to overstate the digression from the virtuous life but to keep it as real as he can, assuring that every youngster in the audience will understand where the young boy has gone wrong and what will bring him back: the golden rules of virtuous living. Interestingly enough, the lesson of the story goes beyond the three fiscal determinants of borrowing, spending, and saving, for it really is about  transcending those to a state where family and friends are the real coin of the realm.

The beautiful, spare, independent Mongolia, whose roots go back to Genghis Khan and Kublai Khan, is rich with love of family that casts a spiritual glow over the uncomplicated but informed life of the natives. In some respects it is reminiscent of the Oscar-nominated Beasts of the Southern Wild but less complicated and harrowing. While Telman is not the gifted actor that Quavenzhane Wallis is, perhaps it’s all the better for the realism.

Visually the wide plains are punctuated by occasional huts and animals; otherwise the expanse of nature melds  with the peaceful lives of the natives.

Not to say modernity hasn’t arrived in Mongolia, for a little store has Barbie Dolls and soccer balls, and a red motorcycle can symbolize the fluid assimilation of progress into the rural quietude. There are empty plastic bottles Amka harvests, yet Ahmed makes the frame uncluttered in order to emphasize the uncomplicated allegory.

The naturalistic actions (when was the last time you saw someone on the can for a time, but you weren’t repulsed?) lend believability about a culture that values friendships, family, and love over materialism. Amka and The Three Golden Rules will tell your children more about the valuable life than most other films from mightier countries.

For lucky visitors to the upcoming Cleveland International Film Festival (March 19- March 30, 2014), Amka and The Three Golden Rules will be screened.  

John DeSando, a Los Angeles Press Club first-place winner for National Entertainment Journalism, hosts WCBE’s It’s Movie Time and co-hosts Cinema Classics. Contact him at