Windhorse

on September 16, 1998 by Ray Greene
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   Think of how Hollywood patted itself on the back for the Tibetan vogue of last year launched by two period movies shot in Morocco. Then try to measure the guts and inventiveness it took for documentarian Paul Wagner to lens this drama, a "J'accuse!" directed at China's contemporary policies in Tibet, on Tibetan locations, and in the almost equally repressive country of Nepal.
   "Windhorse" stars Tibetan-American pop singer Dadon as Dolkar, an aspiring rock vocalist in modern Tibet. Raised with strict Buddhist orthodoxy by her grandparents, Dolkar's idyllic childhood was shattered when her grandfather was murdered on religious grounds by the Chinese communist regime. Her response to this early trauma has been to abandon the old ways in favor of total assimilation and pop star dreams. Her brother Dorjee (Jampa Kelsang), meanwhile, grew up angry at Tibet's ideology of passivity and has become an embittered drunk. Only cousin Perna (played by an actress whose name has been withheld for political reasons) keeps to the religious and nationalist traditions, devoting herself to a simple life as a Buddhist nun.
   As Dolkar's star begins to rise, she is seduced by the promise of instant fame into becoming a singing spokesperson and apologist for China's puppet government in Tibet. But fate has a cruel complication in store. After being forbidden to display the Dalai Llama's picture at her monastery, Perna launches an impromptu demonstration in a crowded square and is arrested and beaten almost to death. The clash of Dolkar's desire to forget the past with the grim and repressive reality that still surrounds her is at the heart of "Windhorse."
   Though veering a bit wildly from showbiz melodrama to political allegory, this is a movie that is never less than fascinating, thanks to excellent performances from an amateur cast and the wealth of ethnographic material the film contains. "Windhorse" deals with complex and dangerous political situations, as evidenced by the fact that the actress depicting Perna, as well as many others in the cast and crew, felt it would be unsafe to allow the credits to display their names. Wagner's ability to mount such a handsome and dramatically effective film under such trying circumstances makes "Windhorse" a movie the politically-minded should definitely try to see. Starring Dadon, Hampa Kelsang and "the Actress Portraying Perna." Directed and produced by Paul Wagner. Written by Paul Wagner, Julia Elliot and Thupton Tsering. A Shadow release. Drama. Tibetan and Chinese-language; subtitled. Unrated. Running time: 98 min
Tags: foreign, Tibet, Chinese, Dadon, Hampa Kelsang, Paul Wagner, music, Buddhism, family drama, religion, government, politics
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