Movie Review – Unsilenced: The untraced story of Falun Gong
Movies have always been the means to transcend and translate real incidents into digital fixtures and release them to a wider body of audiences beyond binaries, barricades, and boundaries. And it extends to a great deed when movies are made concerning the documentation of history, culture, and day-to-day affairs of a specific area, region, or country. The momentous success of many movies in the past like People v O.J. Simpson, The American President, Lincoln, etc. have its own space, solace, and accolades in the world cinema for reflecting the stories during that time and age. Even the tremendous success of the recent The Kashmir Files in India and straits in foreign, which showcases the abhorrent conditions of Kashmiri Pandits during 1989-90 is a testament to the fact that movies, digital cinema, and even OTT shows have a lot to offer than just entertainment and recreation.
“Unsilenced” is one of the most critically acclaimed thrillers of 2021 riding on the efficient and responsible shoulders of the Peabody Award-winning director Leon Lee. The story revolves around the persecution, torture, and forced labor perpetrated by the infamous Chinese Communist Party (CCP) against practitioners of Falun Gong. Falun Gong is a spiritual practice anchored around traditional Chinese culture and values. The movie outshines the word ‘go’. By beautifully paraphrasing the intrinsic culture of Falun Gong which espouses honesty, compassion, tolerance along with wholesome exercises and meditative practices, Lee has done great work in projecting his writings on-screen with utter conviction, dedication, and sincerity.
The story revolves around a Ph.D. candidate Wang (played by Ting Wu) and three other fellow students in pursuance of protecting as well as being true to their beliefs and avoiding the clutches of CCP and its agents. Wang and his friends are characterized as dedicated, potential but at the same time a bit naïve and immature. They initially try to reason with the CCP secretary Yang (played by Wang Tzi-Chiang) in furtherance of preserving their beliefs and cohabiting with the demands of the CCP at the same time but eventually find themselves stuck in Yang’s diplomatic as well as thug-ish crosshairs. Abhorred by the regular interventions and nagging by Wang and his friends, Yang, who is already tasked by his party leaders to annihilate Falun Gong administers and further projects the right motivation for handling Wang and other practitioners of the said practice. The captured practitioners suffer a grisly array of torture, enticed by false promises of leniency and freedom only if they denounce Falun Gong and give them the information regarding the pro-Falun Gong movement’s supporters and anchors.
The movie possesses and elucidates a unilateral storyline depicting the hardships of the Falun-Gong practitioners as they struggle to remain steadfast in their spiritual beliefs and at the same time, avoid capture. Soon, the practitioners face the horrifying reality that they must abandon studies, family, and employment for their survival which is inherently a mirroring depiction of what’s happening in China at present. The spine-chilling shots of practitioners being forcefully sent to labor camps where they suffer menticide, physical torture, and involuntary organ excavation are very bravely captured.
The movie also revisited other episodes which depicted the exploitation and dismissal of basic human rights through different characters and their backstories footing a new sub-plot without hindering the movie’s pace. As the character of American journalist Daniel Davis (Sam Trammell) was brought into the frame, his arc of being a veteran of Chinese political upheaval and a victim of forceful expulsion from the country in 1989 for reporting the incidents at the Tiananmen Square massacre re-surfaced the violent horrors of the incident where the CCP killed scores of peaceful protestors.
The behind-the-camera glitches and chaos were as equivalent to that of the ones projected on the screen where the only difference was that the former was not scripted. The filming of such a sensitive story under this turbulent political atmosphere was impossible in China and thus the film was shot in Taiwan. The movie also faced rightful concerns from actors as they believed that such a pivotal political drama is likely to draw negative publicity as well as government sanctions on the actors and their families. Furthermore, the shooting locations which were booked far in advance evidentially got canceled once the organizers got the word about the subject matter of the film. The film and the story however did come out the victor in many incidents. Incidentally, the crew was confronted by a local Mafia who insisted that they vacate the shooting premises but as soon as he was told the story of the film, he offered his protection and assistance which led to a smooth shooting process.
The plot may only concentrate on the Falun Gong practitioners but it is a long and endearing story of the collective plights of Uyghurs, Christians, Tibetans, Muslims, and ethnic minorities in China. The film is yet to find traction in the Western Media as the story is as relevant as the word itself and the atrocities inflicted by the CCP in the national, as well as international circuit, need to be vociferously voiced against.
Lee in his recent interviews shed special light on the whole forced organ donation practices done at the hospital which is only miles away from his home in China and therefore he aimed to bring such incidents out to a wider spectrum. Lee also entertained the idea of standing up against those in power. He reiterated that upon considering the magnanimous scale at which Chinese citizens are killed at the hands of CCP, the international outrage is marginally less. The ‘genocide’ at the hands of CCP is yet to be acknowledged by the West World and China deserves at least equal if not large support and concerning eye-raises which are often drawn against the atrocities happening in Canada and United States.
Sorrily, Unsilenced did not get the mileage it deserved and is available in selected theatres in Taiwan, New Zealand, Canada, and United States. As a result, the movie was bound to get pirated as it is yet to be made available on the major global OTT platforms.