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When The Dragon Swallowed The Sun

When The Dragon Swallowed The Sun

By Patrick Samuel • August 21st, 2013
Static Mass Rating: 4/5
Free Motion Films

Release date: August 16th, 2013
Running time: 113 minutes

Director: Dirk Simon
Writers: Kristen Riordan, Dirk Simon
Composer: Phillip Glass

Cast: Michael Keaton, Alec Baldwin, Geena Davis, Jeffrey Jones, Catherine O’Hara, Winona Ryder

When The Dragon Swallowed The Sun

Freedom is something many of us in the Western world take for granted. We barely give it a second thought when we have laws, institutions and human rights groups all protecting our rights to move where we want to, settle where we wish and be where our hearts desire, but what if we lived somewhere where those freedoms aren’t so forthcoming? What if you were no longer able to practice the religion of your choice, or protest against what you thought was wrong or access information about the place where you live. There are many places like this in the world, and one of them is Tibet.

Situated in the north-east of the Himalayas, in the People’s Republic of China, Tibet is also the highest region on earth, with an elevation of 4,900 meters, and has been inhabited by humans for at least 21,000 years, making it an area rich in history, culture, philosophy and religion, and also one of immeasurable aesthetic value. Over the millennia it’s been ruled by Yuan Dynasty, Phagmodrupa Dynasty, Qing Dynasty and the Dalai Lamas but by the 1950s, conflict between the newly enthroned 14th Dalai Lama’s government and the People’s Republic of China over sovereignty began to grow and it’s here Tibet’s history became what we know today.

Before the Chinese invasion in 1949, Tibet was a nation with its own government, currency, postal system, language and legal system. Since the invasion the Chinese government forced thousands of Tibetans to abandon their traditional rural nomadic lifestyle and move into new housing colonies or towns. Over 6,000 Tibetan Buddhist monasteries and shrines have been destroyed. In 1959 the Dalai Lama, Tibet’s political and spiritual leader, fled into exile in India followed by over 100,000 Tibetans and established the Tibetan Government-in Exile. Tibet’s remaining population live under constant surveillance and over half of Tibet’s available forest stock has been felled and exported to China.
When The Dragon Swallowed The Sun

“Since March 2011, more than 100 people are known to have set themselves on fire inside Tibet in protest against the repressive Chinese occupation of Tibet. Self-immolations and protests are now taking place over a widening area of Tibet. Some protests have also taken place outside Tibet and China. Viewed in the context of other recent significant protests, the self-immolations underline that the current crisis in Tibet represents a fundamental rejection of China’s occupation.”¹

That’s just the tip of the iceberg though. What’s been happening over the past decades is nothing short of crimes against humanity, but rather than giving us a lesson in what we can already learn from history books and news reports, documentary filmmaker Dirk Simon presents us with a wealth of vastly differing viewpoints and personal stories in When The Dragon Swallowed The Sun. Coming in at almost two hours in length, we get to hear from actors such as Richard Gere and Dennis Haysbert who oppose China’s occupation of Tibet. We also get to hear from people who live there and those who’ve fled. From this we start to get a more informed idea about life in Tibet is like today with the Dalai Lama’s Middle Way Policy, a compromise on Tibet’s Independence. Many argue whether or not this is the right strategy.

In this way, When The Dragon Swallowed The Sun helps us to question what freedom is and why it’s such an important and basic right When The Dragon Swallowed The Sunto every person born into this world. To take away that right is to undermine, not just a single person or particular group, but us as sentient species living on this planet for a short time.

Tenzin Gyasto (the 14th Dalai) talks about the violence of the Chinese army and how he felt when he encountered it himself. His face is one we’ve come to recognize so well over time, but this was actually first time I’ve heard him speak. There are numerous personal stories, too many to remember and summarise here, and that’s one of the drawbacks of an epic documentary like this. In wanting to present us with so much, occasionally When The Dragon Swallowed The Sun feels like too much. It’s almost overwhelming, but nevertheless it’s engaging, especially when parallels between China’s occupation and Nazi Germany are drawn using the 2008 Beijing Olympics protests to highlight this.

The cinematography is at times breathtaking with its wide spanning shots of the horizon and mountain top scenes, and it contrasts with the more down-to-earth and face-to-face interviews, giving us a little bit of everything in between with archive footage as well. However, as much as I adore the work of Phillip Glass, I felt his score was out of place here and I wonder why they couldn’t have used native music from Tibet.


With everything When The Dragon Swallowed The Sun shares with us, we’re left with only this question; why has the fight for a free and autonomous Tibet from China been so fruitless? Is it because international governments are motivated by economic interests in China? Just a few weeks ago, on July 20th, 18 year old Kunchok Sonam set himself alight after morning prayers and died. His demonstration was a rejection of China’s occupation. A few weeks earlier, a nun, Wangchen Dolma, did the same. Since January 2013 the following individuals have given their lives or come very near to doing so in order to protest against the occupation and treatment of their fellow brothers and sisters: Tenzin Shirab, Lobsang Dawa, Kunchok Woser, Jugtso, Ngaba, Kunchoek Tenzin, Lhamo Kyab, Kalkyi, Lobsang Thokmey, Kunchoek Wangmo, Sandhag, Ngaba, Tsesung Kyab, Phakmo Dhondup, Rinchen and Sonam Dhargye, Namlha Tsering, Dhukpa Kyar, Lobsang Namgyal, Kunchok Kyab, Jigji Kyab, Dupchoek and Tsering Tashi.

How Tibet goes about freeing itself, either through non-violent or violent means, is a controversial issue, but it’s one that the international community cannot continue to ignore. If Tibet’s people and way of life is eradicated by the Chinese, the world loses another part of its spiritual self. Hopefully more documentaries and films like this can give the issue that push it needs to waking up the world that freedom isn’t a privilege, it’s a birthright. But watching films is hardly a form of action, or a passive one at best.

When The Dragon Swallowed The Sun

Patrick Samuel

Patrick Samuel

The founder of Static Mass Emporium and one of its Editors in Chief is an emerging artist with a philosophy degree, working primarily with pastels and graphite pencils, but he also enjoys experimenting with water colours, acrylics, glass and oil paints.

Being on the autistic spectrum with Asperger’s Syndrome, he is stimulated by bold, contrasting colours, intricate details, multiple textures, and varying shades of light and dark. Patrick's work extends to sound and video, and when not drawing or painting, he can be found working on projects he shares online with his followers.

Patrick returned to drawing and painting after a prolonged break in December 2016 as part of his daily art therapy, and is now making the transition to being a full-time artist. As a spokesperson for autism awareness, he also gives talks and presentations on the benefits of creative therapy.

Static Mass is where he lives his passion for film and writing about it. A fan of film classics, documentaries and science fiction, Patrick prefers films with an impeccable way of storytelling that reflect on the human condition.

Patrick Samuel ¦ Asperger Artist

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