Time: 134 Minutes
Tenzin Thuthob Tsarong as the Dalai Lama (Adult)
Gyurme Tethong as the Dalai Lama (Age 12)
Tulku Jamyang Kunga Tenzin as the Dalai Lama (Age 5)
Tenzin Yeshi Paichang as the Dalai Lama (Age 2)
Director: Martin Scorsese
In 1937, a two-and-a-half year old boy from a simple family in Tibet was recognized as the 14th reincarnation of the Buddha of Compassion, and destined to become the spiritual and political leader of his people. Director Martin Scorsese brings to the screen the true story of the Dalai Lama. Told through the eyes of His Holiness, “Kundun” brings to life the account of the Dalai Lama’s early life, from childhood through the Chinese invasion of Tibet and his journey into exile.
Kundun was the remaining Martin Scorsese movie that I hadn’t seen yet (with the exception of The Irishman), and I didn’t really know what to expect from it. All I knew about the movie was that it was about the Dalai Lama and that it caused Scorsese and some other people who worked on the movie to get banned from China. When it comes to his filmography, Kundun isn’t really brought up often, and it’s a shame because it should be talked about more, it’s really good.
As someone who doesn’t know anything about the Dalai Lama, I found the movie to be quite interesting throughout. It’s also worth noting is that screenwriter Melissa Mathison wrote this movie with her interviews with the real Dalai Lama becoming the basis of the script. So if you’re wondering about accuracy, there you go. I will admit that I wasn’t totally on board with the movie from the beginning, but it got better after the first half an hour or so and I was reasonably invested throughout. It’s a long movie at 2 hours and 15 minutes, and while you do feel that length, after the early section of the movie I didn’t find it to drag often. Someone described this movie as being made of episodes, not a plot, and that’s an apt description. It’s a little loose with the plot and is basically telling about the Dalai Lama’s real life without much of a structure, but it’s not a problem if you’re invested or interested in what’s going on.
None of the cast here are professional or known actors, but they definitely played their roles well. They all fit in very well into their roles with no one really seeming out of place (though some of the much younger actors struggle a little but you can look past them). The only thing that’s a little distracting is that everyone here mainly speaks English and I wasn’t really expecting that, nonetheless you get used to it after a while.
This is one of Martin Scorsese’s most different movie, and he did well at changing his filmmaking style, his work here is excellent and underappreciated. The production design, costumes and everything in that area was just right for the movie. Thelma Schoonmaker’s editing here is among her best work, and that’s really saying a lot. Roger Deakins’s cinematography as usual is fantastic, this is such a gorgeous looking movie, with the entire film looking like a painting. In the opening credits I recognised Philip Glass’s name for his work on the Candyman score, and that score is amongst the most distinct horror themes I’ve heard. So I knew that he’d deliver something spectacular with Kundun’s score and he definitely does. It’s really large and epic, and really complements the cinematography perfectly. These 4 aspects work perfectly towards the finale in such a tremendous way, probably the highlight moment of the film, and that’s saying a lot.
Kundun is probably one of Scorsese’s lesser known movies, but it should be seen just like the rest of them. The actors play their parts well and it’s an interesting story for sure, but it’s even worth seeing just for the technical masterclass that’s on display, with Scorsese, Schoonmaker, Deakins and Glass really creating something special. Definitely a movie worth checking out.