Life in Bhutan explored in ‘The Monk and the Gun’

“The Monk and the Gun” opens at the M.V. Film Center on Saturday, March 9, at 7:30 pm. This satire by Bhutanese director Pawo Choyning Dorji narrates the world of Bhutan in 2006 as it decides to become a democracy. It’s important to recognise that the Bhutanese director and actors are elements of the film’s satiric tribute to Bhutan in the face of influences by the West.

The film opens with Tashi (Tandin Wangchuk), a monk attendant carrying a metal canister through the visually beautiful Bhutanese fields past a stupa, or sacred Buddhist monument, to his elderly superior (Kelsang Choejay), who is busy meditating. The lama asks Tashi to bring him a gun by the next full moon.

This weird episode reflects aspects of the traditional culture characteristic of Bhutan, a small Himalayan nation. It also introduces the viewer to Bhutan’s move toward becoming the world’s youngest democracy. The country’s king has already abdicated in order to promote this transition.

At the same time Tashi hunts for a gun, the country grapples with the changes that democracy will bring about. Tshering (Pema Zangmo Sherpa), an election official, encourages the citizens to partake in a practice election, suggesting they can vote for a blue candidate representing freedom and equality; a red one for industrial development; or a yellow one for national preservation.

An example of the friction involved comes when a rural family is caught up in the husband Choephel’s (Choeying Jatsho) involvement in the election campaign, in contrast to his mother-in-law’s opposition. To boot, the daughter Yuphel (Yuphel Lhendup Selden) asks her dad — without success — for the eraser she needs at school.

American media, in particular TV, play a significant role in promoting democracy, as satirized by the film. Tashi drinks “black water,” or Coke, while watching the U.S. moon landing, as well as Daniel Craig in a James Bond film.

While the film’s media satire impacts Bhutan’s attempt at modernization, the same kind of satire is happening to Tashi’s acquisition of a Civil War gun. Here the film calls attention to the American obsession with guns and money. Ron Coleman (Harry Einhorn) is the American (in a tribute to the Hollywood actor) eager to acquire Tashi’s gun, willing to trade two AK-47 guns, if not cash, for it.

Information and tickets to “The Monk and the Gun” are available at


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