"Windhorse" is about a Tibetan family's life under Chinese occupation, and was daringly shot partly on location in Tibet. People interested in the cause of Tibet might find the story simplistic and melodramatic, but it is politically compelling.
In 1979, children playing in the streets witness Chinese soldiers killing a man they're related to. Jump forward to 1998, an the children are grown-ups. Dolkar (Dadon) sings in a karaoke bar and dates a Chinese broadcast official, Duan-ping (Richard Chang). Her brother Dorjee (Jampa Kelsang) hates the Chinese, but spends his time drinking and playing pool. Their cousin Pema (a Tibetan actress whose name is intentionally left off the film's credits for her safety) has become a nun.
Duan-ping, being more naive than villainous, realizes he can curry favor with his superiors by recruiting Dolkar to sing on the local TV station, which carries pro-China propaganda. She practices songs in praise of Mao, and invites her boyfriend home for tea; her grandmother spits into it in the kitchen before taking it our to him to drink.
Meanwhile, Pema's nunnery is ill-treated by Chinese officials, who forbid anyone to possess a picture of the Dalai Lama - or even to think of him. One day in the market, she's overcome with emotion, shouts anti-Chinese slogans, and is arrested, and later taken to her cousins' home beaten so badly her life is endangered. Under these circumstances, can Dolkar still go on the TV show? Will Dorjee sober up and take part? What will happen to Pema? In the right hands, the movie could be a powerful statement, although its film qualities are just routine. What recommends it are the authentic locations and the conviction of the actors.
Footnote: The film's value as politics is underlined by controversy last year at the Hawaii International Film Festival, where the Chinese government protested the film's inclusion in competition for the main prize. Director Wagner at first withdrew the film from the festival, then decided to allow it to show out of competition, on the reasonable grounds that he would rather have it seen than use it to make a point.
Julia Elliot, Thupten Tsering, and Paul Wagner
Dadon, Jampa Kelsang, Richard Chang, Lu Yu, Tenzin Pema
Tibet, nuns, 1998,
Tibet and Mandarin with English subtitles Reviewer's Name:
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