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‘Mustang’ Examines the Tibetan Plight

TIMES STAFF WRITER

Tony Miller’s beautiful and stirring documentary “Mustang: The Hidden Kingdom” (at the Sunset 5, starting Wednesday at 12:45 p.m. daily for one week only) follows the Dalai Lama’s elderly emissary, Rinpoche Khampuet, and his small entourage on an arduous journey in the summer of 1993.

They travel from Dharamsala, India, site of the Tibetan government-in-exile, to Lo Manthang, the capital of Mustang, a tiny Himalayan kingdom geographically and culturally part of Tibet but long under the jurisdiction of Nepal, which until recently had sealed its border under pressure from China, effectively cutting it off from the world.

The gentle Rinpoche’s mission is to re-establish ties with this medieval country, a veritable but primitive Shangri-La, the one place where authentic Tibetan ways have continued undisturbed, yet are endangered due to a shortage of teachers to preserve literacy. While offering a message of tentative hope the film’s narrator, Harrison Ford, points out that Mustang may yet be engulfed by Nepalese Hindu nationalism.

This fine documentary is but the latest to call attention to the terrible and ongoing plight of Tibet, where under decades of genocidal Chinese rule, 1 million of its 6 million citizens have been killed, almost all of its 6,000 monasteries destroyed, its rivers polluted and its unique animal species brought close to extinction. The documentary will premiere on the Discovery Channel on Sept. 11 at 9 p.m. Information: (213) 848-3500.

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The Monica 4-Plex’s Hong Kong series continues Wednesday with a one-week run of Tsui Hark’s rousing, gorgeous-looking “Once Upon a Time in China III” (1993), in which martial arts star Jet Lee returns as Wong Fei Hong, an actual turn-of-the-century Cantonese surgeon and proponent for Chinese independence who in the series emerges as a folk hero of legendary kung fu skills. We’re now in the early 20th Century, with the Russo-Japanese War looming and the Empress Dowager calling for a martial arts competition to instill a nationalist spirit in the face of extensive foreign incursions.

The plot proceeds along two parallel lines: Wong tackles a local Beijing martial arts team determined to keep him and his teammates from competing, and he finds himself resenting the attentions of a young Russian officer (John Wakefield) toward a beautiful relative by marriage, Aunt Yee (Rosamund Kwan), with whom he has fallen in love.

A superb period piece shot on location in Beijing, “III” is more elaborate than its predecessors but not as coherent; its political subtext, involving the Empress’ role in the Russo-Japanese War, is none too clear. Even so, martial arts fans shouldn’t be disappointed. Information: (310) 394-9741.

The Nuart is reviving on Friday for a six-day run “The Queen,” Frank Simon’s graceful and compassionate 1968 documentary that offers a behind-the-scenes look at a national drag contest, held in Manhattan’s Town Hall. It’s a lively mix of humor, bitchiness and all but hair-pulling competitiveness and ego.

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Playing with it is Ellen Turk’s and Andrew Weeks’ fascinating “Split--William to International Chrysis: Portrait of a Drag Queen,” which introduces us to one of New York’s fabled gender-benders, a poor Brooklyn gay kid (glimpsed in “The Queen”) who via hormones and silicone--but not transsexual surgery--transformed himself into a lush beauty who became a cabaret performer, sometime call girl and a fascination of Salvador Dali. Information: (310) 478-6379.

The New Beverly Cinema will be presenting on Friday and Saturday an Orson Welles thriller double feature, “Touch of Evil” (1958) and “Lady from Shanghai” (1948). Information: (213) 938-4038.


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