The Monk and the Gun was watched early as a screener. It was shortlisted for Best International Film at the Oscars as Bhutan’s submission. And it is released theatrically on February 9th, 2024.
This is pretty obvious from the title, but of course this movie is about…holding free and fair elections!
In 2006, the King of Bhutan was like, hey, you all deserve to have more freedoms. And decided to switch their country to a democracy, so that the citizens could vote. And sure, they would still have their king. You know, like Great Britain. But the citizens had no concept of democracy, or voting, or voicing their opinions on a prime minister. So, what are they to do? Just let democracy fail as everyone ignores it?
No! The local government is going to hold Mock elections, to teach the citizens how to vote, to share opinions, to pick different things to care more about for their government to work on. In a big face of apathy from the local population, who seem to just really like their king and not want the change. Yep, that is the backdrop to the story.
Now, the other main plot is that Tashi (Tandin Wangchuk), a monk, is told by his Lama, in a religious exile for years, to go into the main country and bring him back two guns. For a ceremony, for a mystery. At the same time, Benji (Tandin Sonam) is escorting an American (Harry Einhorn) around the country, looking for a very specific gun as well, for a collection. Guns!
Oh look, a (presumably) monk with a (presumably) gun! The movie delivered its title!
Finally, another Bhutanese film. I know most of you reading this might have seen zero Bhutanese films in your life. At this point, this is only my second one. And that is probably true of a lot of people who have seen any. Lunana: A Yak in the Classroom, is a film that was nominated for Best International Film a few years ago, and was a surprise. Similarly, this movie was on the shortlist of nominations for Best International Film, but not nominated. Is this a grand awakening of Bhutan as a film producing country, or, have they been producing movies for awhile and I just have only noticed if it relates to the Oscars? Honestly, I hope its the latter.
Either way, I do like that both of these movies have really simple, yet descriptive titles.
But on to the movie at hand. Did I expect it to be about mock elections for a countries first elections? Obviously not. And I am not a historical scholar of Bhutan, and have no idea how much of this story is actually what happened in the country. I clearly have to take the film’s word on the subject. Of which, I do think it is a very interesting backdrop, and I love that I learned a little bit of recent history from just that knowledge alone.
And, it still maintains the other plot as well, the gun and the monk, of which I assume is the more creatively liberal aspect of this story. And that plotline on its own is fine as well. It meshes well eventually with the societal backdrop of the historical events. It is amusing and worthy of light giggles at points. But at the same time, I still wish there was some more to the story. It being a relatively simple story is fine. I just wish it was more satisfying in its conclusion. It felt like a short story, expended into a larger movie without enough content at points.
Still a great film on its own rights. In a year with so much great international work, it had a tough hill, and it was likely an honor just to be shortlisted. Here is hoping I see another Bhutanese film before a 2-3 year gap.