REVIEW: Looking for a Lady with Fangs and a Moustache (2021)
If nothing else, Looking for a Lady with Fangs and a Moustache should win all sorts of accolades for being one of the most imaginatively titled films to be released in a long time. And, while the cinematography and performances may live up to the vibrancy of that particular moniker, unfortunately the pacing and intrigue do not.
The film draws on director Khyentse Norbu’s time as a Buddhist lama and presents a cultural clash of East meets West; traditionalism meets modernity. It’s peppered with light humour and moments of real emotion. It’s a slow burn that eases itself under your skin but, ultimately, fails to enlighten.
Centring around the ambitious Tenzin (Tsering Tashi Gyalthang) and his desire to find the perfect location to open a coffee shop for tourists, the film offers commentary on spirituality, systems of belief and modernisation. The Nepal that Tenzin works in is not changing fast enough for his liking. His is suited and booted, in comparison to his compatriots in daura surawal and saris. His is ambitious; keen to make his mark on the world and some money. He is drawn into the mystical and theatrical world of spirits and curses by his friend, Jachung (Tulku Kungzang), who insists he consult be introduced to a monk to discuss his fate.
The monk in question – who wears oversized headphones and asks for guidance from “His Holiness, omniscient Google” – tells Tenzin he will die by the weekend unless he can find a dakini (a female spirit in Hinduism) who can forgive his misdeeds. And so begins his journey of soul searching …
Throughout his ‘journey’, Tenzin begins to hallucinate – petals fall from the sky and women with their faces painted red appear in his rear view mirror. The sounds of coffee beans being stirred and ankle bracelets clashing together become serpentine to him. It is often hard to distinguish imagination from reality and Gyalthang gives a stirring central performance as he reacts in disbelief. The soundtrack – echoing piano solos meets rich traditional music – emphasises not only the culture clash but the dreamlike state in which Tenzin suddenly finds himself.
The film leans heavily on its cinematography, with a particular focus on crowded marketplaces and misty mountains. There is a particular scene, towards the end of the movie, which sees Tenzin walk out of a market place at dusk. Everything is swathed in shades of blue, from his inky shadow in the foreground to the whisper of the mountains looking in the background. It uses the rich and varied landscape to create images that are quite hauntingly beautiful. The colour palette is positively sumptuous in its use of contrast – a teal room with a fuschia day bed; vermillion monks robes against rolling green hills; a pale blue wall with vivid red chillies hanging from it.
Where Looking for a Lady falls down is in its pacing. Obviously, journeys of spiritual discovery don’t happen overnight but there is a little too much repetition in some areas and not enough explanation in others. Tenzin keeps returning to a rather eccentric lama for advice but these scenes never feel like they are moving the plot along. And, unless you really know Hinduism, you’re perhaps going to get lost in amongst the references to various goddesses and imagery (which is fine, this is an Asian movie made in Nepal and that is what a post-movie Google search is for). It sort of meanders from one conversation to the next, without ever really delivering that emotional pay off.
It also barely scratches the surface as to the obvious culture clash in contemporary Nepal. Middle aged hippies sit in a shisha bar – no doubt “discovering themselves” – whilst Tenzin seeks genuine spiritual guidance. Motorcycles zoom past bicycles and carts; ancient temples sit alongside modern apartments; women wash their clothes in the street near the proposed site of Tenzin’s Western coffee shop. There are throwaway comments about “yellow haired peoples” and their need for proof and, yet, Tenzin himself is a skeptic. Whilst these references are mostly visual, there is something of a social commentary there, screaming out to be explored in more detail.
It’s unclear if the film is offering up a morality lesson – if you think you’re going to die, you’re going to change your ways and embrace those around you, right? But we don’t know enough about Tenzin – or his ways – to know if he needs to change or why he has been chosen for this particular spiritual quest. It does feel like there could have better uses of the film’s nearly two hour run time.
Flaws aside, Looking for a Lady with Fangs and a Moustache really is a treat to look at. Tsering Tashi Gyalthang is a delight in the central role, neatly balancing humour and emotion, and it would be interesting to see Khyentse Norbu’s previous cinematic efforts.
VIRTUAL LIVE PREMIERE & PANEL DISCUSSION APRIL 8TH (HOSTED BY THE RUBIN MUSEUM OF ART)
WORLDWIDE WATCH NOW @ HOME CINEMA RELEASE APRIL 9, 2021