w h e n  t h e  d r a g o n  s w a l l o w e d  t h e  s u n


August 15th 2013

Dirk Simon

Richard Gere Dalai Lama

115 mins



August 13th 2013


UK Release







1 billion versus 6 million never sounds like a fair fight  does it? When The Dragon Swallowed The Sun highlights the ongoing plight suffered by Tibetans at the hands of the colonisers, the People's Republic of China. Documentary film-maker Dirk Simon has crafted a cinematic and fascinating documentary and there's no doubt the subject matter ought to get you thinking and get you angry.  

If you don't really know the history of Tibet (and I was embarrassed to admit that there was a lot I didn't) then When The Dragon Swallowed The Sun is a good place to start. A huge amount of history and fact is thrown into the documentary without it ever feeling too much like we are being schooled. Some of the facts we are presented with are truly horrific; the fact that 1,200,000 Tibetans have died since the beginning of the Chinese occupation for example. This is a country of only 6 million. It is genocide. To Chinese people peace is extremely important and yet this is allowed to happen. It seems that the Chinese view presented here is that the Tibetans are being helped by China, one Chinese man even stated how lucky they were – they could have as many children as they wanted and they don't pay taxes. I wonder how many Tibetans would call themselves lucky?  I think we could count those on one hand. 

With a subject matter that seems mostly black and white (China invaded Tibet and now they won't leave, Tibet was a country in its own right for hundreds of years) it is a credit to Simon that he does try to present the Chinese viewpoint too as fairly as possible although there is no mention of lack of human rights in China.  This is helped by the Dalai Lama who is of course one on the 'best humans on the planet' and who doesn't blame the Chinese people, in fact he has faith in them. One can understand that Chinese of a certain age who only have access to certain newspapers or television would have a preconceived notion of Tibet and what China is doing for it, they see Tibet as a backward country in need of help. Not as a peaceful independent country is being ripped to shreds for no reason.  

The most effective parts for me were the talking heads, particularly the Dalai Lama, Kalsang Phuntsok Gordukpa, Samdhong Rinpoche, prime minister of the Tibetan government in exile, teenage heir to the Tibetan throne, Lhagyari Trichen Namgyal Wangchuk, Students for a Free Tibet representative Tenzin Dorjee and activist Lhasang Tsering. Also a Chinese artist whose eyes are wide open about what China is doing gives a much more modern and realistic viewpoint of the situation. All of these were allowed time to talk at leisure and I found them interesting but also slightly depressing as it seems that no one can really see a solution to the problem in the near future and China is destined to remain in Tibet. It raises the very big problem of tradition versus survival. There are so many ancient rituals and traditions in Tibet that of course should be honoured but they also need one governing body to take them into the modern world and stand up for their rights. They need someone political fighting their corner and I do hope that someone comes around soon.  

It is a shame that one of the main focuses of the documentary that everything is hung around is the events of the Beijing Olympics 2008 and the protests that Tibetans were trying to make about their mis-representation or lack of representation. The Tibetans had their own version of the Olympics and the film suggests they are an athletic strong nation who would have done well at certain sports such as archery. This film was pegged to be released in 2010 and it is a shame it is only now it is being seen as with another Olympics been and gone it feels slightly strange to have so much focus on an event where not that much really happened. It would have been more relevant nearer the time.  

The music by Thom Yorke, Damien Rice and Phillip Glass is beautiful although Glass' parts more than once veered dangerously close to The Hours soundtrack.  

There are so many important issues raised in When The Dragon Swallowed The Sun that while I wasn't drawn in by Simon's style of film-making  it is impossible not to recommend viewing. It is about something that is often taken for granted but so very important and worth fighting for and something Tibetans just don't have – basic human rights.  

Check out the trailer here 

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