Set in 2006, when the Kingdom of Bhutan began its transition to democracy, this playful ensemble drama from writer-director Pawo Choyning Dorji is a poignant parable about the impossibility of embracing modernity without reckoning with the past.
The Monk and the Gun
Pawo Choyning Dorji
The year 2006 marked a historical turning point for the Kingdom of Bhutan: with the abdication of its King, it began its journey to becoming the world’s youngest democracy. Following the adventures of monks, villagers, urbanites, and one hapless foreigner, this big-hearted ensemble drama captures that moment of transition in all its strangeness and wonder.
As Bhutan has never experienced an election, government officials stage a mock election as a training exercise — though even registering folks to vote is a challenge in regions where people don’t know their birthdates. In the village of Ura, an elderly lama, recognizing the great change sweeping his country, instructs a monk (Tandin Wangchuk) to obtain a pair of guns. Meanwhile, Benji (Tandin Sonam) takes a gig hosting and translating for Ron (Harry Einhorn), an American antique arms collector who has come to purchase a coveted 19th-century rifle. With a tremendous fee on offer, Ron assumes the transaction will be a slam dunk. He fails to anticipate that, just as the Bhutanese are unfamiliar with democracy, they are also less persuadable when it comes to the laws of commerce.
Helmed by Pawo Choyning Dorji, director of 2019’s Oscar-nominated Lunana: A Yak in the Classroom, and set against Bhutan’s snaking streams and verdant hills, The Monk and the Gun delays explaining the title’s juxtaposition until late in the story — at which point this playful, wise film becomes a poignant parable about the impossibility of embracing modernity without reckoning with the past.
Official Selection, 2023 Toronto International Film Festival