Biopic on Tibetan Buddhist is confounding, agonizing

By Phil Villarreal,, Oct 25, 2007

Tucson, Arizona -- Buddhism teaches that suffering is inseparable from existence.

Suffering is certainly inseparable from the experience of watching "Milarepa," an agonizingly slow, dramatically misconceived biopic on famed 11th-century Tibetan Buddhist figure Jetsun Milarepa.

It's a half-biopic, actually. The Tibetan-language drama tells only part of Milarepa's story, showing a bitter revenge quest that left him — wait for the shocker — ashamed and unfulfilled. Text at the end of the film declares a sequel is on the way in 2009.

The setup is as much of a cop-out as making a film about Bruce Wayne coming to the astounding revelation that crime is bad and must be countered by a tights-wearing billionaire vigilante, then making you wait two more years for another movie in which he finally becomes Batman.

The director is Tibetan Buddhist lama Neten Chokling, who is said to be reincarnated from the lineage of great yogis of the past. Unfortunately, he directs as though he's the second coming of the infamous Ed Wood.

Chokling's amateurish effort can't catch any sort of dramatic flow and is plagued by inconsistent performances that range from chaotic overacting to stone-faced boring.

The dialogue, laden with platitudes, is airy and portentous, not so much foreshadowing what's to come but pointing out the melodramatic eventualities with signal flares.
The hero must go off on a long, pointless quest, hurting people to mask his own pain, before realizing that, like the viewer, he would have been better off just staying home.
The film opens with Milarepa, in his early life known as Mila Thöpaga, mourning as his rich father passes away, mentioning Thöpaga will inherit the sizable estate once he marries.
But after years have passed, cruel relatives squander the riches, enraging Thöpaga and especially his vindictive mother.

Played by Jamyang Lodro in a one-note performance of chronic confusion, Thöpaga heads off to learn dark magic, which he aims to use to rain fiery destruction on those who wronged him. Along the journey he learns many lessons, but one that escapes him is the truth that continually staring off into space with a dumbfounded, quizzical gaze does not a likable character make.

While gawking at the misshapen film, it's at least easy to identify with him.

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