April 06, 2011

Mindfulness & Murder: A monastic mystery

Who dunnit? That's what Father Ananda, a cop-turned-Buddhist-monk, is trying to figure out in Irish-Thai director Tom Waller's new film Mindfulness and Murder (Sop Mai Ngib in Thai). From the Bangkok Post:

Adapted for the screen and directed by Tom Waller, an Irish-Thai producer/filmmaker, the film is adding a new shelf in the menagerie of monk characters in Thai movies. Though not exactly a mind-twisting detective flick of the highest order, the film rides on a moody atmosphere, while its portrayal of the cloistered monastic existence—in good and bad ways—is honest and far from simply flattering.

In the film, we see men in saffron robes walking around puffing cigarettes, exchanging furtive looks and and swaggering like thugs. One monk sports a tapestry of gangster-style tattoos, another is implicated in a secret drug ring. There's a hint of sexual repression and dark secrets; meanwhile in a lighter-hearted way, the abbot of the temple casually gives out lottery numbers to desperate villagers and then goes out to bless the newly-opened 7-Eleven.

''I didn't mean to shock people at all,'' says Waller, who read Wilgus's script and instantaneously decided to turn it into a film. ''The idea was to make a police detective story—you can think of CSI, or In the Name of the Rose [Der Name der Rose]. But I wanted to do it with the backdrop of a murder in a monastery, to put a new spin into it.

''It's not a film about religion, and certainly I'm not picking on Buddhism. What I want to do is to show how monks really live, to make them into real characters, because I don't see many films like that getting made here.''

''I find a lot of solace in the original teachings of the Buddha,'' he says. ''They were about suffering and how to stop suffering, and the teachings did not concern themselves with metaphysical questions like the existence of gods, souls, eternity and so on, but only with the here and now and what we can do to improve our lot in life.''

''People look at me and say, you're not 100-percent Thai, so how can you do this?'' says Waller. ''Of course try to make the film as Thai as possible, but it's also my film, and we have this rapper playing a monk, so I guess it has its own elements.

''In making the film, I think I'm not as kreng jai as Thai people usually are with monks. I respect monks of course. I respect that they're respected. But I think I have an objective look. So I go into the monastery with a magnifying glass and I look around and find out what's interesting. That's my film.''

Watch the trailer for Mindfulness and Murder below:

 

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