Kundun - Movie Reviews - Rotten Tomatoes

Kundun Reviews

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Super Reviewer
½ February 22, 2012
The cover of Kundun makes you think "kids movie," until you see who directed it: Scorsese. No one gets whacked, and the film is nearly bloodless, (compared to, say, Goodfellas), but if it wouldn't horrify a child, it would certainly bore one, as it's basically a biopic. This may, in fact, be the one time we could accuse Scorsese of Oscar-baiting: Tibet was a hot issue in the mid-90s, and you know how much the Academy likes this kind of story (see: Gandhi), and it's almost purgatorial of him, after Casino, to turn his attention to this paragon of non-violence - as he did with Jesus, too, come to think of it. Scorsese's fascination with violence makes this - and Last Temptation of Christ - a strange choice, but then again, violence can be equally fascinating in its absence. A lot went right, but Kundun will forever be lumped with Last Temptation in the "departures" section of Scorsese's career.

As concerns the film itself, it opens rather dully, with a strangely ominous Tibetan drum track appearing almost too often, but eventually it wraps its loving arms around you and shares excellent cinematography, insights from afar, and wonderfully unfamiliar music (by Phillip Glass). The powerful way in which the music drives the film almost makes up for a plot - discovery of the Dalai Lama, his coming of age, confrontation with Mao and his exile in India - that's somewhat rote, and for wooden acting across the board (language barrier, perhaps?). In all, it's not Scorsese's best work, but to dismiss it is to overlook some of the aspects of his films that - as the Academy recognized, with Hugo - are among the best in the industry: costuming, music, sound, cinematography, makeup... all things you can't really be the best at without having the Best Director, but I digress. Kundun is unorthodox, but if you let it, it can carry you away.
Super Reviewer
½ November 28, 2007
more than any of scorsese's films, kundun shows his remarkable range as a story teller. the film struggled to draw in real emotion at points and reverence shown to the dalai lama went too far in missing an opportunity to show his flaws, but just about every other element of this film was nearly perfect. deakins cinematography was astounding, some of the best of his already mind blowing career, and the landscapes, costumes, and acting performances were all excellent. when this film is set against scorsese's gangster films as a contrast, you can really see the difference between the hate and sin of those characters and the humility and spirituality of these ones. a stunning film.
Super Reviewer
August 16, 2007
A film I have been wanting to see for quite some time, purely on a spiritual level and because I have an attraction toward Tibet.

I feel I have learned a few things from this film, but at the same time I found it a little boring - which was a little disappointing.

The film, directed by Scorsese, was made well and I'm sure resembled the facts as a true story, it just wasn't as insightful as I had hoped it would be.
Super Reviewer
½ May 30, 2007
Scorsese's amazing film about the life of the 14th Dalai Lama is something to behold.Schoonmaker's editing and Deakins's cinematography bring exquisite beauty to this stunning pieces of cinema
Super Reviewer
January 25, 2008
It was just cool to see and the movie looks amazing.
Super Reviewer
October 2, 2007
In all of Martin Scorsese's films,this was the lowpoint of his career and "Kundun" shows this in detail.
Super Reviewer
March 5, 2007
A departure form Scorceses usual territory, but it's lavishly photographed, and makes fo a fascinating insight into the politics and culture of Tibet and it's people.
Billie P.
Super Reviewer
August 12, 2013
Martin Scorsese's "Kundun" (1997) details the 14th Dalai Lama coming into his own, from being discovered as a young boy and viewed as the reincarnation of the Dalai Lama to his decision later in life to move out of India and oppose the Chinese government. An actor playing former Chinese Chairman Mao appears in here. The various actors in the film playing the Dalai Lama are three, and they are all quite cute, especially, really, the youngest (seriously, he was so cute, I almost cried when I saw him). Anyway, there is something missing from this film, and I don't know what it is exactly. Something about the arc toward the ending was a little strangely orchestrated. But you know, the film is visually stunning, the characters seem real, and viewers will generally enjoy it.
Cameron W. Johnson
Super Reviewer
June 9, 2012
I know when I think of a biographical epic about the 14th Dalai Lama, I think of Martin Scorsese, though that might only be because this film came out mere months after "Seven Years in Tibet", and the only other pair of films that I can think of off the top of my head that shared subject matter and came out around the same time are "Chapter 27" and "The Killing of John Lennon", both of which involved someone getting shot, something that is right up Scorsese's alley, so I sometimes get them confused in the biggest stretch of a way. I think the only film about asians that I can see Scorsese attached to as director is "Oldboy". No, I'm very well aware that Scorsese is perfectly capable of doing things outside of crime films, though his range typically cuts off just short of his tradition of having a brutal body count, because even "The Last Temptation of Christ" ended with the main character dying pretty harshly. Oops, sorry for the spoiler, seeing as how no one could have possibly predicted that a movie about Jesus Christ would end with him dying. I was thinking of saying, "needless to say, this film about the Dalai Lama is one of Scorsese's couple of films that don't involve brutal killings", but if you actually think that I'd be spoiling a film about Jesus by saying that he dies, then I should probably cut out the "needless to say" part, because you need to learn some history. Well, if you're going to start on your history lessons by learning about the current Dalai Lama, then this film makes for a pretty good teacher... notwithstanding the inaccuracies. Still, as good as the film is, its historical mistakes are certainly not the only hiccups it makes.

The film's runtime of 134 is undeniably lengthy from a general standpoint, yet as far as an epic is concerned, and one that follows the complex life of the current Dalai Lama, that runtime doesn't sound as though it completely fits the bill, so I was expecting some rushing. What I got wasn't "some" rushing, but instead, "a lot" of rushing, with a frequent score and constant tone of an amalgamation of matter-of-fact and hurried making the already rather tossed-together story structure feel even quicker in progression. Now, the film hits its ever so welcomed slow-downs, yet rushing remains a glaringly prevalent flaw that tears at the steam of the film throughout it and damages its meditation upon the subject matter. However, with all of this rushing, the film still manages to fit in some excess material and repetition to intensify the sting of the spotty story structure and telling and further distance the resonance. The film's story is an incredibly worthy one, and one that rests in the hands of a very competent storyteller, yet he slips up in too many spots, not at all being helped by the equally spotty structure of the storyline, thus leaving the film to fall short on its potential, when it could have stood up there with the later-to-be-done "Gangs of New York", or "The Departed", or even "The Aviator" (Pretty much every movie he did with DiCaprio) is one of Scorsese's finest accomplishments. Still, with all of its steam-loss, amazingly, the film contains enough juice to kick on until the end. Yes, the film dissatisfies, to a degree, and were it lengthier, with more meditation upon its story, it would have really hit hard, yet as it stands, the film hits much more than it misses, with style being an aspect that never misses.

Roger Deakins does his thing as cinematographer by drenching the film in a subtle color-bounce that's not terribly upstanding, but still rather attractive, keeping the audience's eye locked in, especially when it hits a lighting point that truly does take your breath away. As for Philip Glass' score, it is overused to an extremely detrimental point, almost wearing you out of the resonance after a while, yet this negative affect would have really crushed the film, were it not for the fact that Glass' fantastic score is also a great strength of the film, boasting an engaging grace that's not just a joy to hear, but also supplements the film's elegant tone and really breathes life into this world, though not as thoroughly as the production designs, which are nothing short of incredible, being elaborate, detailed and dynamic, providing many nifty pieces of spectacle, as well as more compliments to the film's livliness and scope. Still, it's not just the designers of the looks and sounds of the film that really bring the world within it to life, but also Martin Scorsese, whose storytelling remains too flawed, mostly because the script also quite problematic, yet for all of the strikes to steam, the film never disengages, as Scorsese graces the film with consistent intrigue and scope that may actually drop lust-evoking glimpses of the greatness of a more comfortably structured epic, yet still help in keeping this film as rewarding as it is. The other carrier, or rather carriers of the film are our leads, because where all of the supporting cast members fill their parts comfortably, not some, but every portrayer of the Dalai Lama really knows what to do, with each child actor bursting with charisma, as well as awe and much vulnerable discomfort towards these greatest of responsibilites that have fallen upon such a young and potential soul. As the portrayers grow older, the defining charisma and humanity remains, while a sense of experience and ever-growing nobility and brilliance within our lead grows more and more intense, all in reflection of the growing conseqeunces and intrigue that the quickly maturing Dalai Lama, augmenting the film's gradually increasing weight. Each new lead works in comfortable conjunction with the last, with each young acting talent embodying the central character with the constant charisma, humanity and sense of maturing that defines the Dalai Lama, even to this day. This chain of young acting skill and chemistry may not drown out the messiness of the study progression, yet do help in giving the story a reasonably organic feel, standing as one of, if not the most key aspect to this film's standing as generally rewarding.

Overall, with all of its occasions of excess material and repetition, the core fault within the film is simply that it's just so blasted hurried, glossing over meditation within the worthy and lively subject matter and leaving it to frequently lose steam, when it could have truly stood as remarkable, were it looser, yet where the film could have fallen as simply underwhelming, its stellar style supplements the resonance and helps in making the film engaging, though not as sharply as Martin Scorsese's generally compelling direction or the cast of competent talents, headed by a long line of deeply compelling leads who embody the Dalai Lama with charisma and humanity, as well as a piercing and fascinating sense of gradual maturing that makes each lead a thoroughly strong one who helps in keeping the story flow as comfortable as it can be and ultimately making "Kundun" a generally rewarding and consistently compelling study on the complex and intriguing early years of our generation's Dalai Lama.

3/5 - Good
Super Reviewer
½ April 15, 2010
A passable Sorcese effort that in my opinion is ruined by Phillip Glass' irritating score. Made me a Glass hater for life.
Super Reviewer
½ June 14, 2009
Fantastic. The beginning where it deals with a child being anointed as a leader so young was what won me over and the rest of the way it kept me interested. Once again proves my theory that Scorsese is a better director than Michael Bay.
Super Reviewer
½ September 7, 2008
Un-Scorsese film and yet so devoted to his spiritual subject and embrace.Enlightening progress,lovely images and the most beautiful in the clear sense of the term film by that great and unpredictable U.S. filmmaker.Will the East influence more of his later work?
Super Reviewer
December 26, 2007
Absolute favorite of mine! Great!
August 28, 2015
In addition to being a powerful biographical coming-of-age story, "Kundun" brings to the screen an important Tibetan issue.
November 10, 2014
My movie review will be about the movie Kundun, directed by Martin Scorsese. Kundun is a movie about the early life of Tenzin Gyatso, the fourteenth Dalai Lama. Throughout the entire film, the Dalai Lama was never referred to by his birth name, but instead referred to as either Kundun, or Dalai Lama. The film begins at Tenzin Gyatso's very early age. After the death of the 13th Dalai Lama, the monks of Tibet went in search of the reincarnation of the Dalai Lama, the 14th Dalai Lama. Eventually, their search came to an end when the found a young buy near the border of China and Tibet. To make sure the young boy was the actual reincarnated Dalai Lama, he was put through a test. The test was to pick a few artifacts among others, and the artifacts that were to be chosen were those that belonged to the previous Dalai Lama's. Young Tenzin picked all of the correct artifacts, claiming they were his. Since then, his journey as head of the Tibetans began. He was taught the way of Buddhism and also the way of life of a Buddhist Monk. Halfway through the film, the problem between China and Tibet came to light, which to this very day continues. The issue is that China does not want to recognize Tibet as an independent nation, but instead claim it as a part of China. Although older, the Dalai Lama was still too young to deal with a situation such as that, however he was called upon to assume full political power after China's invasion of Tibet Eventually the Chinese invaded Tibet. The issue with the Chinese invading Tibet did not get any better, eventually the Dalai Lama was forced to escape into exile. To this very day, he has no returned to Tibet, but hopes to return one day. This film may not have been all too interesting in the very beginning, it shifts towards the middle and sheds light on the troublesome situation between the nations of Tibet and China, how things came to be, and Tibet is still fighting to claim their independence from China.
The Dalai Lama is a very important Buddhist monk in the country of Tibet and is seen as a very important religious leader all of the world. The film touches on quite a few Buddhist teachings. In the film you will see young Kundun being taught the basic teachings of Buddhism. For instance, young Kundun was being asked to recite the three jewels, which are the three things that Buddhists take refuge in, and look toward for guidance. "The daily observance of formally taking refuge in these "three jewels"-the Buddha, the dharma, and the sangha-is regarded by many as being the closest thing to a Buddhist "creed" and is regarded as the definitive act that makes someone a "Buddhist. (Brodd, pg. 180)" The Dalai Lama is a very important religious leader in the sense that he represents ass Buddhists, their teachings, and their way of life, and is seen in such a way because the Dalai Lama is believed to be the Buddha of Compassion. In the opening of the film, you see colorful art, which turns out to be sand, which is known as a mandala. "While mandalas are used in Hinduism, where they also function as cosmological diagrams used for meditation, some Buddhists utilize them in unique ways. (Brodd, pg. 189)." Although the Dalai Lama is not in his hoe country of Tibet, he continues to represent the nation of Tibet and its people and the prime example of compassion.

Works Cited
Brodd, Jeffrey, Layne Little, Bradley Nystrom, Robert Platzner, Richard Shek, and Erin Stiles.
"Buddhism." Invitation to World Religions. New York, NY: Oxford UP, 2013. 143-209. Print.
April 13, 2014
This movie was based around the early account of the 14th Dalai Lama, but he is simply a vessel for a larger life or spirit that is continuing through centuries. In the beginning of the movie the little boy is given a series of test. He proves to them that he is the fourteenth reincarnation of the Buddha of love and compassion. The movie only follows the character until about 1959, when the occupying Chinese crushed a Tibetan revolt, forcing the political and a spiritual leader to flee to India. This film provides a deep spirituality but denies the Dalai Lama humanity. In this movie Kundun is seen as being chosen by fate to become this great man, so that when one dies another can be born. At the age of 2 he was found by a wandering group of religious men. I believe that this movie relates to world religion because it has to do with eternal life. This movie shows how life could be eternal because the Dalai Lama continues to be born again after one has died. This movie also shows how there is a young boy growing up with a very heavy burden and many of his followers continue to tell him that he will soon have great responsibility. This movie shows the audience how much courage it takes to adhere to the Buddhist principle of nonviolence which can be hard at times and this also relates to world religion because one aspect of religion is being able to do things without being violent and the Dalai Lama was able to remain peaceful throughout everything that happened to him.
April 13, 2014
Kundun is the spiritual leader of Tibet, culminating when a young boy is able to identify the things that belonged to the 13th Dalai Lama. He is the 14th Dalai Lama and also able reads a letter from the 13th Dalai Lama prophesying that religion in Tibet will be destroyed by China and his followers ask him for help. Because they believe that Kundun is the fourteenth reincarnation of Buddha and he must know what to do to save their country. The first half hour of "Kundun" is at its best when conveying Kundun's childhood as he is taken from his humble village to the Holy City of Lhasa where he brings in forbidden treasures. Kundun keeps forgetting he's the Dalai Lama and he has a responsibility on him. He is the protector of his country including the 5,000 soldiers who guard it. His followers ask him for the solution and how they should protect their country, he always says, "But I am only a boy," "What can I do?". Later his spiritual guides convince him that he is the Dalai Lama and, therefore, must know what course of action to take. Kundun movie would relate to world religion because Kundun was the 14th Dalai Lama and he was the reincarnation of Buddha and in Buddhism people consider Buddha a great religious leader. He achieved enlightenment and showed his people ways of meditation. Through meditation he provided them a way to achieve a peace of mind.
June 20, 2012
I actually enjoyed watching "Kundun" more than Scorsese's other epic look at a religious leader, "The Last Temptation of Christ". Nothing against that film, but there is something interesting about the Dalai Lama to me...specifically the 14th Dalai Lama (who is still the current Lama), being that he has lived in exile for so long. I may be an atheist, but I do dig elements of Buddhism, specifically the whole living in complete peace thing. I'm pretty much a pascifist myself. Scorsese lends the beautiful imagery, while Melissa Mathison provides the story (as well as the passion for telling the story), and the music only helps tie it all together. It may not be a masterpiece or the best film in Scorsese's canon, but it was an enjoyable bio-pic about an interesting figure in history up through today.
½ October 13, 2013
Masterfully told, Kundun is a story that will earn the Dali Lama your respect no matter who you are.
October 13, 2013
This was a great film that took place in Tibet around 1937 where a young boy was born. His name was Tencho Gyalpo who later became the 14th Dalai Lama. Tencho Gyalpo was a boy who loved to hear stories of his birth. He was told that on the day he was born, he was guarded by two crows. This may seem like a coincidence because there had been two crows also said to have guarded the 13th Dalai Lama on the day of his death. At the age of two, Tencho Gyalpo was discovered by monks that were on a quest for the reincarnation of the Dalai Lama. They found this little man in Tibet. In the movie, the monks would place some objects that belonged to the 13th Dalai Lama along with other objects, in front of the child, and each time the young boy would pick up an object that belonged to the 13th Dalai Lama he would say, "Mine, mine." Because Tencho Gyalpo could do what some would call miracles, he was thought to be the reincarnation of the 13th Dalai Lama. Kundun means "prince" which was what he later was called. Two years later, the monk would return and take the boy to live in the monastery. Kundun would be taught the way of Buddhism. There are several scenes in the movie that remind me of rituals and sacred places I have read about like the meditation ritual.
As a teenager he is faced with the fact Chinese have invaded Tibet. The people are being killed and treated like animals. Kundun tries to make peace with some Chinese officers but it was in vain. Later in the movie he needed to flee or he would be killed. Because of the pressure, he chose to flee to India around 1959 and it is there he had dreams or visions of his people being killed under the Chinese rule.
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