A moral tale of crime and retribution, jam-packed with Bhutanese film stars, “In a Defiled World” is the latest effort from the prolific director Talop Wangchuk and was included in the Bhutan Cinema selection of Five Flavours Film Festival 2017.
Set in modern-day Thimphu, Bhutan capital city, the narration has a pre-title flash-prologue that places the plot very firmly in thriller territory. Mendrel (popular actress Lhaki Dolma) is a free-spirited woman who carries her strength and determination with plenty of confidence. When by pure chance in a difficult situation she bumps into a kind-hearted and helpful country folk called Tenzin (Tshering Phuntsho), something sparkling happens. Well, at least in Tenzin’s hearth. Struck by her beauty and her positive aura he burns the bridges and, making a fool of himself, asks her immediately to marry him, hardly knowing her name. Mendrel laughs genuinely at him and Tenzin’s offer of a comfortable life as a hen farmer’s wife doesn’t help either and eventually the two part.
Simultaneously, the movie follows the misfortunes of Penjore (Bhutanese heartthrob Sonam Tenzin), a charming and handsome gambler who’s unable to fight back temptations and is gradually drowning in debt in the hands of a slimy loan shark (the other big star, Gyem Dorji).
We jump 3 years ahead and while things seem unchanged for Penjore, life has taken a very different course for Mendrel and Tenzin. After losing all his money and his farm in an accidental fire Tenzin is now penniless and job-searching in Thimphu. Following a job advert, he shows up for an interview, only to discover Mendrel is his interviewer and Company owner. She is indeed a successful entrepreneur after inheriting a little capital from an uncle and remembering how sincere and honest his proposal was, she decides to help him and give him the job. But despite her strong and rational mind, Mendrel meets a charming young man who is set to melt her heart and take advantage of her.
“In a Defiled World” is a well-executed pop movie that relies on good performances from beloved actors and a story that ticks the boxes of both entertainment and Bhutanese morality. The two alternating plot-lines are slightly confusing at first as if belonging to two different movies, but then slowly converge and start to make sense. In a very gentle way, the film is also a social commentary and an expose of what greed and money ambitions can do to people’s lives. There is a very balanced sense of morality like in many Bhutanese tales. Good deeds will bring good results and bad action will be punished, in a way or another. There is no escape from this equilibrium and no nuances o noir-style ambiguity. Nevertheless, the good character studies and the dynamic editing both help to create a good pace and engage the viewer.
Lhaki Dolma as Mendrel is excellent, she especially shines when the movie offers a comedy moment and as the bossy but compassionate businesswoman. It is indeed very refreshing to see a female character in a powerful and major role. Together with Tshering Phuntsho, they form a well-balanced couple of actors and they have shaped two characters you really care about. Not surprisingly, during the final credits, they perform together a beautiful song and a clumsy (him) dance.
All in all “In a Defiled World” is a good piece of entertainment where solid performances make up for a plot-line that is partially weakened by predictability.