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As fascinating as this satirical, unusual look at nascent democracy in Bhutan is, The Monk and the Gun struggles for tone and rhythm and lacks the whimsy needed to pull its ambitions off.

I was an unabashed fan of Lunana: A Yak in the Classroom, the sweet, auspicious debut of Bhutanese filmmaker Pawo Choyning Dorji. With his second feature Dorji gets more ambitious, juggling hefty themes and a variety of characters, but he fails to keep every ball in the air.

The premise provides an excellent hook: in 2008 Bhutan reforms from an absolute monarchy into a democracy but it has to educate the people on the process and thus a trial election is held. This poses not only logistical problems, but also requires the change-averse people to rethink their mindset.

While it is refreshing to see a movie that overtly questions the need for democracy at all times, The Monk and the Gun lacks the nuance to really draw out discourse on the subject. Thematically, it is more successful in an anti-capitalist subplot that sees an American collector trying to acquire a civil war gun, yet this muddles the overall message of the film.

The satire Dorji clearly aims for thus doesn’t cut through quite as sharply as it should, with the at times heavy-handed approach overpowering the small moments of whimsy that show there is more potential in the film than it ultimately conveys.

So The Monk and the Gun intrigues, fascinates and keeps you entertained but it doesn’t linger in the mind beyond the end credits. For a film that aims to satirise, that’s simply not good enough.

release: 2024

director: Pawo Choyning Dorji

starring: Tandin Wangchuk, Tandin Phubz, Kelsang Choejay, Tandin Sonam


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