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<-Back to WTN Archives 'Kundun' Steers Away From Hollywood (CSM)
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World Tibet Network News

Friday, January 2, 1998

1. 'Kundun' Steers Away From Hollywood (CSM)

Christian Science Monitor
December 31, 1997

David Sterritt, Staff writer of The Christian Science Monitor

NEW YORK -- Other movies had higher budgets or flashier stories, but
"Kundun" might be the riskiest and most audacious picture of the past

Focusing on a subject steeped in history and religion, filmmaker Martin
Scorsese has steered away from Hollywood-type elements that might
distract attention from the seriousness of his theme. There are no
movie-star faces - most roles are played by Tibetan actors - and the
story covers a 22-year span instead of condensing events into an
artificially dramatic structure.

Also missing is the psychological emphasis used by most movies to fix
attention on the main character's personality. Melissa Mathison's
screenplay cares more about sweeping ideas - faith, nonviolence, the
intersection of politics and religion - than the personalized drama
found in pictures like the recent "Seven Years in Tibet," which explored
similar territory in a far more conventional way.

In sum, Scorsese has dared to direct a high-profile art picture that
leaves the incendiary images of his "Mean Streets" and "GoodFellas" for
a thoughtful look at historical, biographical, even spiritual issues.
The result isn't likely to be a high-grade hit in today's star-saturated
movie atmosphere. But seen on its own terms, it's an inspiring epic that
deserves a wide audience.

The story begins in 1937, when Tibetan monks identify a two-year-old
boy as the latest incarnation of the Dalai Lama, the country's spiritual
and secular leader.

Noting the irony of his birthplace, near the Chinese border at a time
of growing political tension with China, they bring him to Tibet's
capital and start the long process of educating him for his future
responsibilities. He's an eager pupil, showing keen interest in the
modern world outside the boundaries of his highly traditionalized

China invades Tibet in 1950, when the 15-year-old leader considers
himself too unseasoned to take charge of an active resistance. In the
last scenes he's a young man in his mid-20s, profoundly shaken by
China's brutality and faced with awesomely hard decisions. Should he
organize a more forceful response to the occupation, compromising his
nonviolent principles and risking his life in the process? Or should he
flee his country to struggle in exile, preserving his leadership but
depriving the people of his comforting presence?

If this riveting material seems less than compelling at times, it's
partly because the film's finely detailed authenticity doesn't always
support storytelling intimacy. There are also moments when Scorsese
appears uncertain how to handle a scene - most of his career has
centered on New York, not the Himalayas - and the film's sacred
dimension may have intimidated him a bit, as happened in his earlier
religious epic, "The Last Temptation of Christ."

This said, "Kundun" is ultimately a stirring tale, filmed by
cinematographer Roger Deakins with striking luminosity. Other key
contributors are editor Thelma Schoonmaker, one of Scorsese's most
gifted collaborators, and Dante Ferretti, who designed the production,
shot mainly on Moroccan locations.

Mathison, whose previous screenplays include "E.T. The
Extra-Terrestrial" and "The Black Stallion," wrote the movie with
assistance from the actual Dalai Lama.

EARLY TRAINING: As he's educated for his future responsibilities, the
Dalai Lama (portrayed by Tenzin Thuthob Tsarong, left) shows a keen
interest in the world outside Tibet. 'Kundun' covers a 22-year span,
focusing on events leading up to the Dalai Lama's exile.

YOUNG LEADER: 'Kundun,' Tulku Jamyang Kunga Tenzin (left) portrays the
Dalai Lama at age 5. The film was directed by Martin Scorsese.

* Rated PG-13. Contains brief but harrowing views of brutality stemming
from the Chinese invasion and occupation.

Articles in this Issue:
  1. 'Kundun' Steers Away From Hollywood (CSM)
  2. China gets tough on using Internet (PI)
  3. China sends relief to snowed-in Tibet (Reuters)

Other articles this month - WTN Index - Mail the WTN-Editors

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