Review: ‘Unsilenced’ immersively dramatizes political oppression in China
The Times is committed to reviewing theatrical film releases during the COVID-19 pandemic. Because moviegoing carries risks during this time, we remind readers to follow health and safety guidelines as outlined by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and local health officials.
Informed by actual events, the unfailingly fervent “Unsilenced” overcomes some problematic scripting and evident logistical challenges to emerge as a moving portrait of conscious resistance in the face of political oppression.
Set in Beijing circa 1999, filmmaker/human rights crusader Leon Lee’s dramatic recreation centers around Wang (Ting Wu), an idealistic PhD student at Tsinghua University who puts his promising future on the line when the ruling Chinese Communist Party demonizes the spiritual discipline of Falun Gong (or Falun Dafa), of which Wang is among millions of adherents.
Rather than agreeing to denounce the meditative practice, Wang and his friends turn to peaceful protest and, subsequently, guerrilla activism, only to be met with an increasingly brutal campaign of suppression personified by the sadistic Zhu (James Yi) that summons alarming echoes of Tiananmen Square.
Considerably less convincing is the subplot involving the seemingly single-handed efforts of a jaded white American journalist (Sam Trammell) from the fictional Chicago Post to get the story out into the world, which can’t help but feel both derivative (see also “The Killing Fields,” “Under Fire,” etc.) and a tad paternalistic.
Given the sheer number of ANONYMOUS entries on the end credits, it’s readily apparent the production, shot in Taipei and Vancouver, was made under challenging circumstances, but those contributions and the committed performances manage to rise above the occasional missteps, which include a distractingly relentless score, to create an immersive viewing experience.
As evidenced by an affecting, surprise appearance in the film’s epilogue, artistic virtue, like truth, will ultimately find a way to prevail.
In English and Chinese with English subtitles
Rated: R, for some violence
Running time: 1 hour, 48 minutes
Playing: Starts Jan. 21, Laemmle Playhouse 7, Pasadena
It's a date
Get our L.A. Goes Out newsletter, with the week's best events, to help you explore and experience our city.
You may occasionally receive promotional content from the Los Angeles Times.