Seven years in the making, and three years after its completion and subsequent acclaim at festivals worldwide, this long awaited and comprehensive look at the plight of Tibet has faced much controversy and objection from China.
Finally given a limited theatrical release in the UK, and with a thought provoking score featuring the combined works of Philip Glass and Thom Yorke amongst others, When The Dragon Swallowed The Sun makes for compelling and essential viewing.
Due to media bias and exaggeration in the west and conflicting statements from the countries involved, the truth behind the history and current situation for Tibet and its inhabitants in exile is elusive and multi faceted. In order to create as complete and thorough a report as possible, as well as an engaging and cinematic experience, director Dirk Simon travelled far and wide to hear first hand accounts of the events which led to Tibetans escaping to Pakistan in exile, many finding themselves conflicted by their peace loving ideals in the face of inhumane suffering by the hands of its invading neighbour.
With the world about to watch Beijing as host of the 2008 Olympics, Simon spoke to campaigners in San Francisco (footage is also included from the awareness rally at that time featuring speeches from an impassioned Richard Gere and a childishly mischievous Desmond Tutu), those of both heritages and mindsets currently living in Tibet as well as contemporary artists and students in China, including some remarkably liberated footage within the Forbidden City itself
(with its military police dealing with so many cameras from visiting tourists, Simon was able to capture stolen moments without drawing attention from his censorial hosts).
The crew had full involvement from the 14th Dalai Lama and his followers as well as key leaders in the Tibetan freedom movement, and as such the audience is invited into a world rarely seen, with many of the opinions and backgrounds of those interviewed evoking heartache as well as a frustrating feeling of powerlessness, especially for the first hour.
Due to its subject matter, When The Dragon Swallowed The Sun attracted the attention and support of both Buddhist followers and politically aware artists, the results of which can be heard in an incredible soundtrack as well as songs by Unkle and Damien Rice along with native musicians from China and Tibet.
However, such is the power of the score at times, combined with a fact filled second half which attempts to cram in as much information as it can, that the end results may be unintentionally overpowering and exhaustive towards the end, leaving part of the message lost, especially when the closing credits are heralded by the most poorly timed heavy metal riff on film to date.
Visually and aurally captivating, with a few unexpected lighter moments of humour to balance the darker moments, this epically scaled yet frequently intimate profile of a nation without a home is admittedly challenging but nevertheless essential and thoroughly rewarding viewing. Receiving a very limited release in cinemas, When The Dragon Swallowed The Sun deserves to be sought after. It may not have the answers but it will prompt many to ask more questions.
When The Dragon Swallowed The Sun DVD is out on Monday 9th December