Wednesday, April 07, 2021

Looking for a Lady with Fangs and a Moustache

Nepal is one of the few places left where the physical and spiritual worlds still intersect—but just barely. Tenzin is a secular Tibetan musician, aspiring coffeehouse owner, and general would-be wheeler-dealer, but karma could have it in for him. According to a Buddhist monk, he only has a week to live, unless he can find a mythical Dakini to intercede on his behalf. However, it is hard for a sceptic like Tenzin to find something that is everywhere and nowhere in screenwriter-director Khyentse Norbu’s Looking for a Lady with Fangs and a Moustache, which releases virtually this Friday, following a special live-stream premiere hosted by the Rubin Museum of Art tomorrow night.

Tenzin can play the traditional Tibetan songs, but his heart is not in it. He prefers to socialize with Kathmandu’s Western expats, who he hopes will patronize the coffeehouse he plans to open. Thanks to a long run of bad luck, the process has been unexpectedly rocky and his ultimate goal remains in doubt. His more devout friend Jachung refers him to the Monk Oracle, who perceives it is not mere ill fortune plaguing Tenzin. He has lost his lha (moral center, if you will) and his days are numbered: probably to seven. Only a dakini can help him now.

Dakinis are known as mortal manifestations of the Buddhist feminine ideal, who have supernatural powers. Supposedly, they also have fangs, and moustache, and maybe even a third eye, but they are also considered strikingly beautiful. Once he recognizes one, he must convince her to extend her protection over him, but the whole process makes Tenzin feel foolish.

was lensed by the master cinematographer Mark Lee Ping-Bing, so you know it looks amazing, but it isn’t just lovely images. Norbu’s story has just enough supernatural elements to make it enormously intriguing, but it remains appealingly rooted in the everyday life of Kathmandu. Frankly, it looks like this should be the next big expat destination. You get a sense of its spirit of community, but there also seem to be opportunities to be had there. Plus, the temples and surrounding landscapes are enormously cinematic.

Tsering Tashi Gyalthing is effectively understated as Tenzin. The way he portrays the skeptical striver’s spiritual arc is not the least bit showy, but it holds deep resonance. Tenzin Kunsel plays her namesake Kunsel, his sometime musical collaborator and prospective dakini, with unaffected earnestness, while Tulku Ngawang Tenzin supplies plenty of sly, bone-dry humor as the Monk Oracle.

Norbu lets the film unfold at his own pace and nobody should begrudge him for it. Despite the direness of Tenzin’s circumstances, it is a true pleasure to be immersed in his world. It has a lot of lha, a good sense of humor, and a lovely capacity for redemption. Very highly recommended,
Looking for a Lady with Fangs and a Moustache live-stream premieres tomorrow (4/8) and releases virtually this Friday.