‘…Unsilenced doesn’t offer torture as entertainment; it’s a tough, fast-moving thriller that educates, but also conforms to a few cinematic clichés…’

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…



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    • I’ve been in war zones, and these people do exist; accessed via journalist bars, dressed in khaki, all the equipment. But it is a cinematic cliche; at least the Westerner is not the main character, as they would in an 80’s movie.

  1. Voice of the Martyrs has been talking about this issue since (not just in China but the world over) since the late 60’s. I had a subscription to their magazine for about 3 years in the late 90’s and man, it was informative, but tough. I don’t know how it is now, but then a Christian pastor wasn’t considered a “real” pastor until he’d been taken in by their security forces and tortured and released.

    VoM’s magazine is free and if anyone is interested, here’s the link:

    • Thanks for this! I had to educate myself a little to formulate my review here, and I’m not claiming to be an expert at all, but all info is welcome on a subject like this…

      • It’s a big issue.
        Considering that VoM has been going since ’67 and they’re still going, well, that pretty much says it all, unfortunately 🙁

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