Combustible Celluloid
With: Sam Trammell, Anastasia Lin, Tzu-Chiang Wang, Ting Wu, He Tao, Shih Cheng-Hao, Chen Ying-Yu, James Yi
Written by: Leon Lee, Jocelyn Tennant, Ty Chan
Directed by: Leon Lee
MPAA Rating: R for some violence
Running Time: 107
Date: 01/21/2022

Unsilenced (2022)

2 1/2 Stars (out of 4)

Falun Gong Wronged

By Jeffrey M. Anderson

Hampered by sections of goopy, overly-modest filmmaking, Unsilenced is nonetheless worth seeking out due to the urgent nature of its true story, so powerful that, regardless, it comes through clearly.

It's 1999 in Beijing, and American reporter Daniel Davis (Sam Trammell) has finally been able to get back into the country he loves, ten years after the events in Tiananmen Square. He's assigned an assistant, Min (Anastasia Lin), and gets to work on the Chicago Post. Meanwhile, two young couples, Wang (Ting Wu) and Li (He Tao), and Jun (Shih Cheng-Hao) and Xia (Chen Ying-Yu), go about practicing Falun Gong, a meditative exercise that encourages honesty and compassion.

When the practice starts to sweep the nation, the crooked Chinese Communist Party Secretary Yang (Wang Tzu-Chiang) launches a campaign of lies to make the practitioners look like terrorists, and Falun Gong is banned. Those who continue to practice are arrested and tortured. But Wang refuses to give up and, with Daniel's help, endeavors to expose the truth, even at the risk of his own life.

Presented in English and in Mandarin with English subtitles, Unsilenced timidly copies many other tear-jerkers and pulse-pounding thrillers to put together its pieces, and not all of it works. A scene of Daniel and Min suddenly shopping for antiques in the middle of everything does eventually have a purpose, but the scene is weirdly out-of-place. And a Mission: Impossible-type scene in which Wang and Xia pose as plumbers to secretly meet with Daniel is rather silly; a recording of banging pipes and sawing noises to cover up the sounds of their talk wouldn't exactly pass muster with Ethan Hunt.

But when Xia is first arrested and punched, hard, in the stomach, it becomes clear that this is serious. The Secretary Yang character really sells it with his movie-villain gestures, his pointy cheekbones and his dead, scowling eyes. He meets with informants in the backs of black cars, and delivers ultimatums with a heartless intonation. Through him, the movie cuts right through the politics and makes clear that this is a flat-out lie, committed by the CCP, designed to protect the power of those in power, and nothing more.

It's an urgent and timely revelation, especially for those outside of Beijing that don't know this story. (The movie was filmed in Taiwan for safety purposes.) The real Wang appears at the end of Unsilenced as a way of illustrating how this fight has affected his life. It should never have happened.

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