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Kundun (1997)

Cast: Tenzin Thuthob Tsarong, Tenzin Thuthob Tsarong, Gyurme Tethong, more...
Director: Martin Scorsese, Martin Scorsese
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Studio: Walt Disney Video
Running Time: 135 min.
Subtitles: English
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This Martin Scorsese film drama detailing the Dalai Lama's life story was in development for seven years, with the Dalai Lama having input into the 14 screenplay drafts by Melissa Mathison (The Black Stallion, E.T.). With four actors portraying the Dalai Lama at different ages, Scorsese's chronicle begins in 1933 with the death of the 13th Dalai Lama. Born in a remote area, the new Dalai Lama (seen at ages two and five in early sequences) is observed by monks who determine that he is the 14th reincarnation of the Buddha of Compassion. In 1944 the Dalai Lama uses newsreels and Western magazines to study WWII events, and as the war ends, he is forced to deal with Chinese Communist aggression. Protests from the Dalai Lama in 1949 are ignored as Mao (Robert Lin) maintains a military stranglehold on Tibet, eventually forcing the Dalai Lama to flee to Dharmsala, India. With a $28 million budget, Scorsese re-created Tibet's tragedy by filming in south-central Morocco with a cast of nonprofessional Tibetan actors. Second unit work took place at locations in Idaho and British Columbia. Avant-garde composer Philip Glass contributed a score with hypnotic, ritualistic overtones. ~ Bhob Stewart, All Movie Guide

GreenCine Member Reviews

One of the greatest movies i've ever seen by Freebirdfly84 December 12, 2003 - 6:14 PM PST
4 out of 8 members found this review helpful
This movie is amazing and beyond belief, in a GOOD way! I can't believe anyone would write a negative review on this movie. I remember seeing it the first time in the theatres and I was dazzled! I've seen it enough times after that to admire Scorcese as the genius he is. When I see a great movie I rate it by thinking if there's anything I could improve, and for this movie the answer is that there's nothing I could see needs improving. I don't get the idea that putting a character in a movie who's actually innocent makes him boring. In fact I think film needs more positive portrayals of people in history and in general. Now, I'm no expert on pre-invasion Tibetan history but as far as i'm concered, the Dhalai-Lhama is a super human. If I'm not wrong I thought he was a special type of Saint who re-incarnates soon after passing away or ascending or whatever. Besides all of that, the film is so well done it should be considered a masterpiece and is definitely one of the best of its time! A must rent for spiritually or non-spiritually minded persons! A great humanistic and honest portrayal of one of the greatest men alive! So please rent it and prepare to have your heart opened.

Dramaless Propaganda by ddennis July 13, 2003 - 6:41 PM PDT
7 out of 12 members found this review helpful
Yes, it's pretty in a "Last Emperor" meets "Koyanisqaatsi" kind of way. Yes, Scorsese gets some points for daring to use authentic "non actors" in the roles. Yes, the Philip Glass soundtrack is unique, even if (and I'm a Glass fan) it does err on the side of detachment overly much.

But the problems are just far, far too large to ignore.

First, we have the historical and political reality of Lama-ist Tibet that this movie barely even hints at. For all of you who think that Tibet was some sort of Shangri-La prior to the invasion of the Chinese, do a Google on 'Tibetan serf'. You'll quickly discover that Lama-ist Tibet was a feudal society, with 95% of the population living as illiterate serfs or slaves. The top 5% of society, who were more or less allowed to treat the commoners as disposable draft animals, consisted of landowners, the aristocracy, guessed it.....monks. Add in the CIA funding of the uprising against the Chinese, and you quickly realize that the Dalai Lama can be seen as a well-heeled theocrat whose drive for Tibetan nationalism cannot be divorced from a retrenchment to an ancient despotic regime.

Secondly, you have the portrayal of the Dalai Lama himself in the movie. To put it simply, he's flawless. He's not portrayed as a man so much as a demi-god. He can do no wrong, commit no evil. If he has a flaw, it's that in his purity and idealism he is a bit naive. This glossy cardboard rendition leads to a bland, flat, dramaless character with whom the audience cannot connect. Every great hero has tragic flaws, and every great villain has a kernel of sympathy. But not the Dalai Lama! Instead, we're given a spiritually perfect uber-being who, when all is said and none, comes across as pretty darn boring.

Had Scorsese made a movie about a spiritual, idealistic man caught between defending a despotic, slavish regime and selling-out to aggressive, god-less, brutal Chinese communists...with a little international politics and CIA intrigue mixed-in...we could have had a very interesting movie.

But, instead, he gave us Botoxified artprop: pretty on the surface, but only skin deep.

GreenCine Member Rating

(Average 7.04)
125 Votes
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Jonathan Rosenbaum's Alternative List to the AFI's
From Rosenbaum's 1998 article in the Chicago Reader: List-o-mania, Or How I Stopped Worrying And Learned To Love American Movies (Films were listed alphabetically only.)
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