Power Dynamics: Our Review of ‘The Monk and the Gun’

Posted in Theatrical by - February 23, 2024
Power Dynamics: Our Review of ‘The Monk and the Gun’

Pawo Choyning Dorji’s The Monk and the Gun is about Bhutan’s relationship with the modern world, but let’s not get into that yet. Let’s keep it simple and say that this is about two sets of characters who’ll eventually intersect. The first group’s main focus is Benji (Tandin Sonam), who has to leave his sick wife for a job. That job involves escorting an American collector, Ronald Coleman (Harry Einhorn). They go to Ura, five hours away from the capital to buy one of his big gets, a gun from the American Civil War.

That titular gun, though, falls in the hands of Master Tashi, a monk who needs it for mysterious reasons. While Benji and Ron are on their journey, a car passes them by that belongs to an officer. That officer is Tshering Yangdem (Zang She), who encourages the Bhutanese to vote. This leads us to The Monk and the Gun‘s second group of characters. That group’s main focus is on Choephel (Choeying Jatsho), voting for a minority politician for the 2006 mock elections. He attends fake political rallies, where the viewers expect him to have a Jesus moment on how dumb these elections are.

I messaged my boss Dave about how this may be one of the funniest films I’ve seen in a long while, it’s satire in a way that it’s showing the Western from the East’s eyes. The Monk and the Gun also displays Marlovian power dynamics among Benji, Ron, and Tashi. The first two are doing everything they can to get the gun off of Tashi’s hands. One of their tactics involve trading the gun for Kalashnikovs, which, what would a monk want with Kalashnikovs!?

The Monk and the Gun is 110 minutes of a visual gag but it’s also about the elasticity of rituals. We see this theme through Choepel’s wife Tshomo (Deki Lhamo), who is more than just a hater’s suffering wife. She juggles motherhood with her new job of assisting Tshering, and normally, the intersection of her two jobs may be a cause of conflict but here, they complement each other. There’s nuance to both female characters even if they archetypally choose compassion over a sense of duty.

The Monk and the Gun beautifully displays Buddhist culture in the kind of vibrant way that we expect in Eastern cultures. These characters behave naturally within a landscape that the film captures both in colour and simplicity. The cinematography here is good even as it uses close-ups to show people who know who they are. As I write this though, the film doesn’t use its culture as a self aware anthropological exercise. The ritual scene in the film helps deliver its biggest punchline which is worth watching on screen.

Watch The Monk and the Gun in select Canadian theatres.

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While Paolo Kagaoan is not taking long walks in shrubbed areas, he occasionally watches movies and write about them. His credentials are as follows: he has a double major in English and Art History. This means that, for example, he will gush at the art direction in the Amityville house and will want to live there, which is a terrible idea because that house has ghosts. Follow him @paolokagaoan on Instagram but not while you're working.
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