Released in 1997, Martin Scorsese’s Kundun never received the audience that it deserved. The producing studio’s parent company Disney barely promoted it due to economic pressures from the Chinese government. Hardly surprising since Kundun depicts the 14th Dalai Lama’s bewildering childhood and subsequent conflict with Communist China that resulted in him fleeing to India.
Through his trademark use of highly subjective storytelling, Scorsese creates a vivid portrait of the Dalai Lama. Meticulous cinematography focuses on details to suggest the Dalai Lama’s compassion and progressiveness, while the editing and Phillip Glass’ evocative score seamlessly incorporate visions with actual events. However, he is also presented as a human being who missed out on a childhood but nevertheless developed a strong sense of humour, a fascination with modern technology and a wilful defiance towards hypocrisy and cruelty – both externally and within his own monastery.
This new DVD release includes featurettes on modern Tibet and the controversy surrounding Kundun‘s release. It is a beautifully crafted film that deserves to be regarded along side Scorsese’s other masterpieces Taxi Driver, Raging Bull and Goodfellas. It also portrays an important piece of history that China and its economic partners would like the world to ignore.
Originally appeared in The Big Issue, No. 248, 2006