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Film directed by Taiwan playwright's son-in-law shortlisted at 94th Academy Awards

“Lunana: A Yak in the Classroom” explores finding happiness in Bhutan

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Pawo Choyning Dorji (right), Ang Lee (second right), and Stephanie Lai (left). (Facebook, Pawo Choyning Dorji photo)

Pawo Choyning Dorji (right), Ang Lee (second right), and Stephanie Lai (left). (Facebook, Pawo Choyning Dorji photo)

TAIPEI (Taiwan News) — “Lunana: A Yak in the Classroom,” a Bhutanese drama directed by Pawo Choyning Dorji, has been named among the 94th Academy Awards' nominees.

Dorji is married to Stephanie Lai (賴梵耘), daughter of U.S.-born Taiwanese playwright and theater director Stan Lai (賴聲川).

The plot of the film, which stars Bhutanese musician Sherab Dorji, centers on a teacher named Ugyen Dorji who is in his last year of training and has been sent to the world's most remote school, in the Himalayas. The movie was released in Taiwan by Swallow Wings Films.

In a 30-minute talk between Taiwanese director Ang Lee (李安) and Dorji, Lee said the film is "precious" compared to other movies nowadays. “We all have a piece of Lunana in our hearts," Lee said, adding that the production is "very simple but very touching.”

Dorji said he enjoys making films about seeking home and belonging. “In Bhutan, we are supposedly the happiest country in the world... It's true that we are a country that values happiness over everything else, but as the country is opened up for the outside world, the innocence of the Bhutanese has been shattered because you can see what is in the outside world."

He feels the idea that "ignorance is bliss" has been challenged, as there are younger Bhutanese seeking happiness in the glittering modern society away from home. Dorji wanted to do the film in an old-school style and try to find hope and happiness in “Lunana,” which means dark valley in Bhutanese.

CNA reported that Dorji and his family will try to overcome quarantine issues in order to attend the award ceremony.

“Lunana: A Yak in the Classroom” will compete for Best International Feature Film with “Drive My Car” (Japan), “Flee” (Denmark), “The Hand of God” (Italy), and “The Worst Person in the World” (Norway). The award ceremony will take place at the Dolby Theater in Hollywood on March 27.


Talk between Ang Lee and Pawo Choyning Dorji. (YouTube video)