Martin Scorsese sets himself the straightforward but epic task of telling the life story of Tenzin Gyatso from the moment, aged two, that he was recognised as the 14th reincarnation of the Dalai Lama to his exile from his native Tibet to India 26 years later in 1959.
The early stages of the film are reminiscent of The Last Emperor, telling the story of a young boy's graduation from mischievous scamp to wise adult - colourful, playful and light. The tone changes from joy to sorrow in the second half of the film when it documents the Chinese oppression of Tibet and the Dalai Lama's attempts to protect his people. Brilliantly filmed and hypnotically paced Kundun is an intriguing movie that despite dialogue that seems dumbed down at times does little to over dramatise real events to please cinema audiences. The weakest moments are those featuring Chinese leader Chairman Mao (Lin) - who comes across as a camp super villain rather than ruthless Communist dictator. A shame, after the wonderful acting of the four different actors playing the Dalai Lama at various ages (Paichang at two, Tenzin at five, Tethong at ten, Tsarong as an adult).
A challenging, thought provoking, mediative film that sits uncomfortably with Scorcese's previous work is helped no end by a superb score by Philip Glass. Kundun is rather like a visit to yoga class - it will leave you feeling slightly giddy and enlightened. The effect though is temporary - despite it's grandeur and fine intentions it's far too quiet to really grab the attention.