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 The World of Film in Australia - on the Internet Updated Thursday June 20, 2019 

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Kundun is based on the life of the Dalai Lama, who helped the filmmakers in telling his own story. The film begins in 1937, with a group of Tibetan holy men on a quest for a very special child: the 14th Dalai Lama, the reincarnation of the Buddha, god of compassion. In a remote village near the Chinese border, they find him, an inquisitive two-and-a-half-year-old (Tenzin Yeshi Paichang) who correctly identifies artefacts from the previous Dalai Lama. The boy is brought with his family to the city of Lhasa, where his instruction begins under Ling Rinpoche (Tenzin Trinley). Unfortunately, it is a time of conflict between Tibet and China over Tibetan sovereignty, forcing the teenage Dalai Lama (Tenzin Thuthob Tsarong) to deal with difficult, delicate matters of state. With China invading, massacring and destroying Tibet in its brutal embrace, the Dalai Lama must decide whether to stay or flee into exile, to best protect his people.

"The chill of the snowy peaks generate goosebumps as the first sounds of Philip Glassí extraordinary score begins - first chants, then violin phrases, while colourful images explode on screen. How rare it is that the visuals and music erupt as one, glorious artistic accomplishment. Kundun is a triumph for Martin Scorsese, whose inspired direction captures the very essence and complexities of the Tibetan culture, the ornate, rich colours and exotic textures. Authenticated by the effective participation of non-professional Tibetan actors, the players are mesmerizing. From the very beginning when we are introduced to the two year old Dalai Lama, we are captivated by huge, black, almond-eyes, rosebud mouth and a mop of unruly hair. His gentle, questioning nature unfolds as he grows older and develops an inner peace and serenity. Scorsese canvasses the superstitions, rituals and customs of Tibet, in a feast of colours and visual imagery. And throughout, Glassís repetitious phrases and jolting intervals pound magnetically and compellingly, bold, delicate and confronting. Exquisite cinema, Kundun is a journey into the soul, a marvelous celebration of screen artistry, a satisfying sojourn into an exotic land and culture, where spirituality reigns supreme over political greed and aspiration. This must be that spiritual oasis that James Hilton called Shangri-la in his book Lost Horizon. Beautifully shot in warm, glowing tones, Kundun is cinematic poetry - a mesmerising journey not to be forgotten."
Louise Keller

"There are ample reasons to see Kundun, not the least its fabulous look and sensational music score. More profoundly, it covers some crucial political ground from the middle of this century, and upsets the Chinese in the process. They are shown to be the ugly bully boys that the communist party state always becomes, a complete contrast to the spirit of communism. But it is not only the Chinese that stand shame faced: the West, its collective back turned, allowed Tibet to be trodden under the Chinese heel. The film offers little on a more personal scale, even though its focus is a single individual, a unique individual and one that deserves love and respect. The script fails to ignite emotions on a scale to match the story, and there is the nagging problem of reflecting an ancient, Asian culture through the English language for a wider (lazy) western audience. Performances are generally good to very good (amateur actors notwithstanding), with the sole exception of Robert Linís Chairman Mao, a cardboard job that defies belief."
Andrew L. Urban

"There's a lot to admire about Martin Scorsese's somewhat by-the-book treatment of the life of the Dalai Lama. There's no denying the director's skills as a filmmaker, and indeed on a cinematic level, the film is awash with glorious streams of colour, stunning cinematography and some grand ideas. The main trouble with the film is that it's far too reverential for its own good, and clearly Scorsese, an obvious devotee of the legendary monk, is too frightened here to take risks. The film suffers from being too thoughtful and certainly too sanctimonious. Another problem lies in the casting, with a number of actors signed on to play the Dalai Lama, none of whom really allow us to see inside this ethereal figure, and one is left curiously dissatisfied. There is no real sense of drama here, no urgent connection with the audience, but rather a series of beautifully structured vignettes which somehow remain distantly connected both from each other and the audience. Scorsese is a director who often overpowers his audience, but there's none of that in a film that is worthy and glorious to the eye, but lacks a dramatic core, resulting in a regrettably plodding work that is interesting but strangely simplistic."
Paul Fischer

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CAST: Tenzin Thuthob Tsarong, Gyurme Tethong, Tulku Jamyang, Kunga Tenzin, Tenzin Yeshi Paichang, Tencho Gyalpo, Tsewang Migyur Khangsar, Sonam Phunstok, Gyatso Lukhang, Robert Lin

DIRECTOR: Martin Scorsese

PRODUCER: Barbara De Fina

SCRIPT: Melissa Mathison (based on the life story of the Dalai Lama)


EDITOR: Thelma Schoonmaker

MUSIC: Philip Glass


RUNNING TIME: 134 minutes



VIDEO DISTRIBUTOR: 21st Century Pictures Video


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