Coming to theatres from writer/director Pawo Choyning Dorji and Roadside Attractions comes the story of dedication from THE MONK AND THE GUN.
In the Kingdom of Bhutan, it is 2006 and they are looking to become a democratic country. As the king gives up his power for a new way for the country, the government decides to hold a mock election as a way to show the people how to vote. The Head of the Bhutan Election Commission Tshering Yangden (Pema Zangmo Sherpa) to oversee it all.
In Ura, and elder Lama (Kelsang Choejey) who has been meditating for a time, tells the monk Tashi (Tandin Wangchuk) who sees to his needs that the Lama needs two guns by the full moon four days away. Tashi does not ask questions but instead begins his journey to find what the Lama has asked for walking down to the village.
The villagers are split on the two contestants of Lordo and Thinley and one family in particular is dealing with the duo. Working at the polling station is Tshomo (Deki Lhamo) wants to be part of the election process and show daughter Yuphel (Yuphel Lhendup Selden) how it works. Husband Choephel (Choeying Jatsho) is working with the Thinley campaigns must to the irritation of his mother-in-law and causes Yuphel trouble at school.
Back in Bhutan, Ronald Coleman (Harry Einhorn) has landed after discovering an antique that he must have. Telling Ron to refer to him as a tour guide, Benji (Tandin Sonam) takes him to Ura to meet with Mr. Penjor who has the gun he has been looking for. Making a financial agreement, Ron is excited and has to go hours away to retrieve the funds.
When Tashi also goes to visit Penjor only minutes later, the monk informs him that the Lama is in need of a gun. Without hesitation, Penjor gives him the weapon as a way of saying thank you for all the peace there has been in the village. Ron and Benji find out about it now the race is on to find the monk.
As voting begins, so does the set-up of the Lama making a huge announcement that is meant to be good for everyone and, as the Lama says, to make things right again.
Wangchuk as Tashi is a devoted monk who serves his Lama faithfully and without question. Being asked to look for two guns, the young monk accepts the assignment and begins his trek. In this small village he follows the leads to his goal. Once he obtains it, his trek back is equally interesting as his dedication is tested. I enjoyed watching Wangchuk gentleness which is so endearing.
Sherpa as Yangden comes into the village thinking she knows the people and what she comes to discover is the saying ‘know your audience’. Her interaction starts out very straight forward but slowly comes to understand this small village of amazing people. Lhamo as Tshomo is having difficulty being the go-between with her mother, husband and protector of her daughter. Lhamo shows us the struggle of new politics in a system the village doesn’t seem to want.
Sonam as Benji is doing what he has to do to pay the bills and get his wife the medical attention she needs. He is a bit desperate and is a fast talker, the problem is you can’t fast talk a monk, especially this monk. Einhorn as Ron is a man on a mission to get his hands on the most sought-after weapon. He wants it with every fiber of his being. Here is another character that doesn’t understand the people of the village.
Jatsho as Choephel believes that he knows what is best politically and doesn’t like the oppositions way of handling the campaign that leaves his wife uncomfortable. Selden as Yuphel is dealing with her own problems of the bullies at school.
Shout out to Choejey as the Lama who is the actual and only Lama of the village.
Other cast include Tandin Phubz as Phurba and Ugyen Dorji as the police.
Roadside Attractions has, since 2003, grossed over $300M and garnered nineteen Academy Award nominations. They have had critical and commercial hits such as MANCHESTER BY THE SEA, BEN IS BACK, BEATRIZ AT DINNER, HELLO MY NAME IS DORIS, WINTER’S BONE and THE COVER as well as so many others. For more information of what Roadside Attractions has to offer please visit www.roadsideattractions.com.
THE MONK AND THE GUN is a stunning, delightful, beautiful story that has a few giggles mixed in. To me it is the story of a change that very few want and a Lama who believes that he knows how to make it right. In the mix is a gun that so many seem to want but each has their own reason. The cinematography is as simple as the people living in the village.
Writer/director Dorji says of his film, “I wanted the Lama and the monk characters in the movie to personify the Bhutanese veneration to the culture and traditions of Buddhism. A personification where there is so much respect for the ordained that the rural people don’t even seem to question or flinch at the audacity of the monk with a gun, because there is so much trust that stems from the Buddha’s teachings that the ‘motivation behind an act is much more important than the act itself’. It is also important to highlight the value of symbolism in Bhutanese culture, how the symbolic power of items can, at time, be even more important than the item itself.”
What I found even more important about what Dorji had to say about the film is that, “One of the main reasons I wanted to tell this story is because I wanted to share with the world, and remind my fellow Bhutanese of the unique circumstances that lead to the opening up and modernization of Bhutan”. It is such a wonderful way for Dorji to share his culture and in such a unique way.
THE MONK AND THE GUN is such a wonderful film of family, culture, a village, a bit of greed and a resolution that is nothing short of spectacular. In their world of guns and James Bond, this film shows an understanding of the world creeping into Ura but yet Ura does not give up their beliefs or their love and respect of peace. Who they are as a people says everything.
This film is the submission for Best International Feature Film for the 94th Academy Awards for 2024.
In the end – a different perspective on peace and a gun!