Some Buddhist monasteries serve as youth rehabilitation centers. In Mindfulness and Murder, we focus on such a monastery in Bangkok, where a young man is found murdered, placed upside down in a big water jar (probably an intentional reference to that scene from The Name of the Rose). Because the young victim is a nobody, the police can’t be bothered with a murder investigation, but suggest that Father Ananda, a monk who used to be a homicide detective, carry out the investigation himself. The abbot at the monastery supports the idea.
Father Ananda then takes a closer look at the monastery, where all is not as it seems. Some of the monks have strange tattoos and do not exactly behave exemplarily. It turns out that there are hard drugs being sold among the young wards, and soon one of the monks disappear, later ending up dead.
Father Ananda is an interesting and well-acted detective monk, along the lines of William of Baskerville (in The Name of the Rose) and Cadfael (the TV show), and he is of course impeccably incorruptible, in stark contrast to the rampant corruption all around him. He is saddled with a young assistant, Jak, a bright boy with a polio-wracked leg.
Sadly, however, Mindfulness and Murder is not a very good movie. It is extremely slow-moving and unexciting, and the elements of the story do not gel very well. Besides the murder and its motive, something completely different is going on at the monastery involving a corrupt Police Major General, and the plot is not very neatly wrapped up in the end. The young boy, Jak, seems to be there almost entirely for sentimental value.
The movie is based on a book by one Nick Wilgus, who is a Thailand-based writer described on one website as “a former Franciscan and […] a student of comparative religions and social worker.” Plotwise the movie seems to follow the book quite closely, although it cannot of course make the characters (esp. Jak) as fleshed-out as in the book.
The director of the movie is Tom Waller, a Thai-Irish film-maker who has also produced the action movie Elephant White (2011) that I happened to watch about a month ago. He is clearly concerned about crime and corruption in society, and this is admirable. However, his technical experience and storytelling skills are not quite on par with what we have come to expect from good Hollywood movies, and so are not quite enough to satisfy a critical movie buff like yours truly.
But while it is not a good movie, it is not a bad movie, either; it is certainly sufficiently different from most other movies to have been worth the experience.
Director: Tom Waller
Cast: Vithaya Pansringarm, Abhijati Jusakul, Pakapong Sangkasi, Prinya Intachai and others.
Runtime: 90 min.