With politics hard to understand right now in the West, a rapid education in Chinese history via Leon Lee’s Unsilenced is a hard sell; haven’t we got enough problems right now? But taking a defensive, ethnocentrically-blinded approach to the geopolitical scene is never productive, and this urban thriller does a bang-up job of making a story about political persecution both comprehensible and involving. Yes, you can ignore what happens in other countries, even in China, but after seeing Unsilenced, you’ll have a bit more understanding to play with.
So we’re back in 1999, and the Chinese govt are cracking down on the spiritual practice Falun Gong and those millions who practice it. Wang (Ting Wu) is one of the few who stand-up for their beliefs, but Wang does so in the knowledge that his opposition won’t make for an easy life. His friends vanish, or return after being tortured, and few in the West are prepared to listen. Meeting Daniel (True Blood’s Sam Trammell), an experienced war reporter and photographer, promises a route forward, but even contacting him is a revolutionary act that makes Wang’s life even harder.
Unsilenced doesn’t offer torture as entertainment; it’s a tough, fast-moving thriller that educates, but also conforms to a few cinematic clichés; Daniel feels like a stock character from the 80’s boom in war photographer dramas (Salvador, Missing, Under Fire) and doesn’t quite have the depth required. But making the Western character a supporting character is important here; the heart of the film is Wang and his willingness to risk everything for what he believes.
The torture scenes are brief and horrifying, even if the violence is implied rather than shown; Lee brings a Michael Mann sheen to the imagery, and creates excitement around events like the dangerous business of hanging of an illegal message above a Beijing thoroughfare. Unsilenced is a slow burner, but it’s also an important film that should be highlighted as a guide to cultural differences, and the importance of cultivating and understanding rather than destroying dissent as being key to our survival moving forwards.
Thanks to Zhen Pictures for access. You can find more details for Unsilenced (2021) at…