Milarepa: Magician, Murderer, Saint



Shining Moon

NEW YORK -- "Milarepa: Magician, Murderer, Saint," a movie about Tibet's most venerated lama, certainly lives up to its title. There's plenty of murder and magic as well as a touch of saintliness at the end. Those expecting a reflective Buddhist piece will be surprised. First-time director Neten Chokling's film actually is a powerful revenge drama. Despite the film's low budget, there's also spectacle, courtesy of the Himalayan locations.

There's always a niche for films about Tibet, but "Milarepa's" appeal could be wider if marketing stresses that it's an exciting story in its own right.

In 11th century Tibet, Milarepa's father on his deathbed bequeaths his wealth to his son when he comes of age. His uncle ignores this request and takes everything for himself. This leaves Milarepa (played as an adult by Jamyang Lodro) and his mother almost destitute.

At his mother's request, Milarepa heads into the mountains to study sorcery so that he can avenge himself by murdering the usurper. He succeeds but then realizes that he has to mend his ways because suffering can only lead to more suffering.

The script by Chokling and Tenzing Choyang Gyari is beautifully simple and sticks solidly to the main theme throughout. Milarepa's transformation from a murderous, if thoughtful, sorcerer to a compassionate individual is nuanced and understated. The drama comes in the big scenes where Milarepa invokes the power of the elements to gain his revenge. The special effects here are passable, though the mountainous locations are awe-inspiring enough.

Tibetan religious references and the sorcery mean that it would have been impossible to shoot this film in Tibet. Chinese authorities still forbid the depiction of superstition in films. So the film was shot on the Indian side of the Himalayas, where Chokling -- who's a lama himself -- heads a monastery.