Golden Kingdom (Kino Lorber, NR)

Golden Kingdom is not a film you watch so much as you sink into the experience of it.

I’m a huge fan of traveling, armchair and otherwise, and one of the best ways to do the former is through film. So Brian Perkin’s feature film Golden Kingdom is right up my alley, offering a virtual trip to Myanmar and a glimpse inside a culture far different from my own. It’s the first international feature film produced in Myanmar since the country reopened to the world and creates an excellent sense of place (it was shot entirely in Myanmar) accompanied by one of the most immersive soundtracks I’ve heard in recent years.

Golden Kingdom is not a film you watch so much as you sink into the experience of it. You can practically feel your body and mind slowing down as you give yourself up the deliberate pace of the life led by the central characters, four novice monks and a head monk, all living in an isolated Buddhist monastery in rural Myanmar.  

The story in Golden Kingdom is set in motion by the departure of the head monk (U Zaw Ti Kaw) on a journey to the national capital, with his time of return uncertain. One of the novices, Ko Yin Witazara (Shine Htet Zaw, the only actor among those playing the four boys who is not in fact a Buddhist monk), is left in charge of the other three, and all four must cope as best they can on their own. They’re just kids, and at first, they take advantage of their new freedom by playing; although, they also keep up with their prayers and sweeping their communal home.

Since they entered the monastery, these young men have barely ventured beyond it, and they don’t have a clue how to accomplish ordinary tasks like obtaining and cooking food (previously a local farmer brought their meals to them, but that ends when the head monk departs). Now they must venture forth and learn all kinds of new skills if they hope to survive. The world around them is full of life, not only that of humans and animals, but also of folk spirits, knowledge of which dwells alongside the teachings of Buddhist scriptures in their minds. So when one boy goes wandering and drinks from a pool which the others fear is enchanted, they fear he will turn into a tiger, and when a storm rattles the walls of the monastery, they fear hungry ghosts from the forest may be coming to attack them.

Golden Kingdom captures the beauty and calm of the Myanmar countryside, and of Buddhist practice, while also providing a coming of age story about a young man who must learn to cope in a world quite different than the one he expected to be living in. Bella Halben’s cinematography is stunning, and David C. Hughes’ soundtrack expertly combines natural and manmade sounds. Golden Kingdom was nominated for two awards at the 2015 Berlin International Film Fest, Best First Feature and Generation Kplus–Best Film. | Sarah Boslaugh

Golden Kingdom is distributed on DVD by Kino Lorber. Extras on the disc include a behind-the-scenes featurette (7 min.), four “aural soundscapes for meditation” (basically video of different terrains and times of day, with a rich soundscape; each 3-4 min. long), and the film’s trailer. 

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