Critics Consensus

Hallucinatory but lacking in characterization, Kundun is a young Dalai Lama portrait presented as a feast of sight and sound.



Total Count: 60


Audience Score

User Ratings: 11,771
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Movie Info

Martin Scorsese's magical mystery mandala on the life of the Dalai Lama is a visually exhilarating, spiritually ambitious film that goes where Scorsese has never gone before.


Tenzin Thuthob Tsarong
as Dalai Lama (adult)
Gyurme Tethong
as Dalai Lama (age 12)
Tulku Jamyang Kunga Tenzin
as Dalai Lama (age 5)
Tenzin Yeshi Paichang
as Dalai Lama (age 2)
Sonam Phunstok
as Reting Rinpoche
Geshi Yeshi Gyatso
as Lama of Sera
Sonam Phuntsok
as Reting Rinpoche
Lobsang Samten
as Master of the Kitchen
Robert Lin
as Chairman Mao
Gyatso Lukhang
as Lord Chamberlain
Tsewang Jigme Tsarong
as Taktra Rinpoche
Tenzin Trinley
as Ling Rinpoche
Ngawang Dorjee
as Kashag/Nobleman No. 1
Phintso Thonden
as Kashag/Nobleman No. 2
Kim Chan
as Second Chinese General
Tenzin Topjar
as Lobsang (Age 5-10)
Tenzin Lodoe
as Takster
Tsering Lhamo
as Tsering Dolma
Lobsang Gyatso
as Messenger
Jamyang Tenzin
as Norbu Thundrup
Tashi Dhondup
as Lobsang (as an Adult)
Jampa Lungtok
as Nechung Oracle
Karma Wangchuk
as Deformed Face Bodyguard
Ben Wang
as General Chang Chin-Wu
Henry Yuk
as General Tan
Ngawang Kaldan
as Prime Minister Lobsang Tashi
Jurme Wangda
as Prime Minister Lukhangwa
Selden Kunga
as Tibetan Doctor
John Wong
as Chinese Comrade
Gawa Youngdung
as Old Woman
Tenzin Rampa
as Tenzin Chonegyl (Age 12)
Vyas Ananthakrishnan
as Indian Soldier
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News & Interviews for Kundun

Critic Reviews for Kundun

All Critics (60) | Top Critics (16) | Fresh (46) | Rotten (14)

  • The film is, in many ways, a remarkable achievement but also a singularly undynamic entry in the director's canon.

    Jan 9, 2018 | Rating: 3/4 | Full Review…

    Mike Clark

    USA Today
    Top Critic
  • The music ties together all the pretty pictures, gives the narrative some momentum, and helps to induce a kind of alert detachment, so that you're neither especially interested nor especially bored.

    Feb 1, 2010

    David Edelstein

    Top Critic
  • Scorsese has taken the harsh mystery out of Tibetan Buddhism, and out of its oppression, too.

    Feb 1, 2010 | Rating: C | Full Review…
  • Disregarding commercial considerations, Scorsese's haunting meditation on Dalai Lama's early life is a majestic spectacle of images and sounds, but it's bogged down by a routine script that fails to offer fresh insights on Tibet's non-violent culture

    Dec 20, 2006 | Rating: B+

    Emanuel Levy

    Top Critic
  • Urged on by Philip Glass's throbbing, blaring score, the director conjures a phenomenal, trance-like climax, owing more to dreams, second sight and the mind's eye than conventional dramatic rhetoric.

    Jun 24, 2006 | Full Review…
    Time Out
    Top Critic
  • A great film about a good man.

    Apr 12, 2002 | Rating: 4/4 | Full Review…
    Globe and Mail
    Top Critic

Audience Reviews for Kundun

  • Aug 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.
    Billie P Super Reviewer
  • Jun 09, 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
    Cameron J Super Reviewer
  • Feb 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.
    Daniel P Super Reviewer
  • Apr 15, 2010
    A passable Sorcese effort that in my opinion is ruined by Phillip Glass' irritating score. Made me a Glass hater for life.
    John B Super Reviewer

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