Sunday, April 25, 2010


Directed by Martin Scorsese
Produced by Barbara De Fina
Written by Melissa Mathison
Music by Philip Glass
Cinematography Roger Deakins
Distributed by Touchstone Pictures (USA)
Release date(s) 1997
Running time 134 min
Language English, Tibetan, Mandarin
Budget $28,000,000
Gross revenue $5.68 million (U.S.)

Kundun, meaning "presence", is a title by which the Dalai Lama is addressed. It is a 1997 film written by Melissa Mathison and directed by Martin Scorsese.  It is based on the life and writings of the Dalai Lama, the exiled political and spiritual leader of Tibet. Tenzin Thuthob Tsarong, a grand nephew of the Dalai Lama, stars as the adult Dalai Lama.

The project began when screenwriter Melissa Mathison, whose best-known work was E.T., met with the Dalai Lama and asked him if she could write about his life. According to Turner Classic Movies, "he gave her his blessing and his time, sitting for interviews that became the basis of her script"; it was Mathison's suggestion that Scorsese be brought in as director.


Even before the film was released China's leaders "hotly objected to Disney's plans to distribute" the film, even to the point of "making threatening noises about Disney's future access to China as a market."Disney's steadfastness stood in stark contrast to Universal Pictures, which had earlier "turned down the chance to distribute Kundun for fear of upsetting the Chinese."Scorsese, Mathison, and several other members of the production were banned by the Chinese government from ever entering China as a result of making the film.
The film did poorly at the box office, taking in less than $6 million in a limited U.S. distribution.


The film — "made of episodes, not a plot" — has a straightforward chronology with events spanning from 1937 to 1959. The setting is Tibet, except for brief sequences in China and India. It begins with the search for the 14th mindstream emanation of the Dalai Lama. Following a vision by Reting Rinpoche (the regent of Tibet) several lamas disguised as servants discover the location of a promising candidate: a child born to a poor farming family in the province of Amdo, near the Chinese border.

These and other lamas administer a test to the child in which he must select from various objects the ones that belonged to the previous Dalai Lama. The child passes the test; he and his family are brought to Potala Palace in Lhasa, where he will be installed as Dalai Lama when he comes of age.

During the journey, the child becomes homesick and frightened, but he is comforted by Reting, who tells him the story of the first Dalai Lama — whom the lamas referred to as "Kundun". As the film progresses, the boy matures both in age and learning. Following a brief power struggle in which Reting is imprisoned and dies, the Dalai Lama begins taking a more active role in governance and religious leadership.

Meanwhile, the Chinese Communists, recently victorious in their revolution, are proclaiming Tibet to be a traditional part of Imperial China and express their desire to re-incorporate it with the newly formed People's Republic of China. Eventually, despite Tibet's pleas to the United Nations and the United States for intervention, Chinese Communist forces invade Tibet. The Chinese are initially helpful, but when the Tibetans resist Communism reorganization and re-education of their society, the Chinese become oppressive in the eyes of many.

Following a series of atrocities suffered by his people, the Dalai Lama resolves to meet with Chairman Mao Zedong in Beijing. During their face-to-face meeting on the final day of the Dalai Lama's visit, Mao makes clear his view that "religion is poison" and that the Tibetans are "poisoned and inferior" because of it. Upon his return to Tibet, the Dalai Lama learns of more horrors perpetrated against his people, who have by now repudiated their treaty with China and begun guerrilla action against the Chinese. After the Chinese make clear their intention to kill him, the Dalai Lama is convinced by his family and his Lord Chamberlain to flee to India.

After consulting the oracle about the proper escape route, the Dalai Lama and his staff put on disguises and slip out of Lhasa under cover of darkness. During an arduous journey, throughout which they are pursued by the Chinese, the Dalai Lama becomes very ill and experiences several visions of the past and future. The group eventually makes it to a small mountain pass on the Indian border. As the Dalai Lama walks to the guard post, an Indian guard approaches him, salutes, and inquires: "May I ask, are you the Lord Buddha?" The Dalai Lama replies with the film's final line: "I think that I am a reflection, like the moon on water. When you see me, and I try to be a good man, you see yourself." (copied & edited from Wikipedia)

The actual person of Dalai Lama.

To be honest, I have not much knowledge about Dalai Lama other than who he is. I didn't know his background, how he has been found and where is he now. After this movie, I also feel shock to see how sky burial is (previously thought that sky burial is to tie the corpse on the tree and let the birds to eat it.) But from this movie, it shows that they have to cut the body into pieces and feed the vultures.

Glad that I am able to learn 'new things' bit by bit everyday from my hubby and he really 'educated' me from many types of good movies, based on true stories and have discussion after that. 

It is sad that till now Dalai Lama is still unable to return to his own country, however, I believe is his destiny to stay where he is now and it is time to let the whole world know more about China. 

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