Review: ‘The Monk And The Gun’

A Dramedy Exploring Bhutan’s Attempt At Modernization

Bhutan, a remote nation in the Himalayas, is known for many things. Natural beauty, Buddhist teachings, and gross national happiness. However, over the past couple of decades, it has made its mark in more modern areas. In the mid 2000s, they became the last nation in the world to connect to internet and television. Shortly after, their king voluntarily gave up power to establish a democracy in the country. This is one of the few instances in history where a democracy was formed by a king choosing to step down, and not one demanded by the masses. The Monk And The Gun takes place during this transitional time in Bhutan’s history. This national shift to a democracy was not one that was met with open arms by the people. They loved their king and were happy with how things were.

In the remote village of Ura, a Lama (Kelsang Choejey) hears of the news. He worries about what this will mean for the future of the village and the country as a whole. This leads him to come up with an idea to set things right before the full moon in 3 days. The Lama tasks his disciple Tashi (Tandin Wangchuk) with retrieving 2 guns that will be needed for his plan. Which is easier said than done in a country where guns are almost nonexistent. Eventually Tashi finds a gun from a local farmer to bring back to the Lama. An antique gun that Ron (Harry Einhorn), an American collector, has been searching for. Benji (Tandin Sonam) is Ron’s local guide angling to get a payday as well. As the full moon approaches, the conflicting motivations must come to a head.

Pawo Choyning Dorji both wrote and directed The Monk And The Gun. The film is his second feature length movie. His first film, Lunana: A Yak In The Classroom is also based in Bhutan but looking at the country through a different lens. The casts of Dorji’s films are a mix of local town residents and actors making their career debuts. With Bhutan having so recently modernized in the realm of television and film entertainment, this field is very new. There are few acting opportunities, leading to many not having any prior experience. Key players in the film, most notably the Lama himself, portraying themselves adds to the film. It provides a whole new realistic, and unique, layer that shines through.

Dorji’s puts together a strong and entertaining script. The movie flows well and the humor is subtle, but hilarious – particularly the election trainings. There is no need for any special effects or CGI here. If you’re looking for your big blockbuster popcorn movie, this isn’t it. What there is however is an abundance of serene music and beautiful shots of the landscape. The Monk And The Gun is a character and dialogue driven dramedy. The story is relatively believable, the audience has a chance to connect with the characters, and there are lessons to be learned. Dorji takes the viewers into the heart of a reality that most of us are not used to. The film highlights that intersection of tradition vs modernization and how people can adapt. The Monk And The Gun is equal parts interesting and entertaining and certainly worth a watch.

The Monk and the Gun is in theaters now.