By titling his documentary about the life of Tibetan Buddhist monk Gendun Choephel Angry Monk, director Luc Schaedler sets out to deliberately set a tone for the contradiction inherent in his film. One does not, after all, normally think of a monk, especially a Buddhist monk, as "angry". There is another layer of contradiction in this film as well, though. Schaedler is critical of what he calls "conservative" Tibetan culture - those members of the Tibetan community who struggled to maintain the traditions of Tibet and who resisted the influence of outside influences on their society. In his film, however, Schaedler paints a narrow and one-sided view of both Choephel and Tibetan culture.
Choephel, born in 1903, was believed to be a reincarnation of a Buddhist lama. In his narrative, Schaedler provides this information almost dismissively, but the belief in reincarnations of lamas is an integral part of Tibetan Buddhism and Tibetan culture. The Dalai Lama living today, for example, is the Fourteenth incarnation of the Dalai Lama, and was identified as such at the age of two through a series of tests to determine his authenticity. As a Westerner, Schaedler doesn't have to hold the same beliefs as Tibetan Buddhists, of course, but as a filmmaker documenting and criticizing a culture he has studied, he says in the director's notes, since 1988, one might expect him to not be quite so blase about a belief that is an integral part of that culture. Choephel was sent, as many Tibetan boys were and still are, to a monastery at the age of four, to begin his training as a monk. Choephel was a bright student who questioned everything, and as he grew older he came to question more and more whether Tibetan culture was stagnating because of the refusal of the Tibetan government, largely controlled at that time by the monasteries, to learn about and integrate knowledge from other cultures.