In the 1990s, an organization known as Falun Gong was introduced in China by Li Hongzhi. Unsilenced, a film based on true events in 1999, though with mostly fictional persons, exposes a period of Chinese history that few around the world fully understand due to Chinese government disinformation.

When the film begins, several persons are located in a park, where they are following instructions on how to keep mentally and physically fit with a two-hour routine of body motion that is designed as a meditative exercise to encourage honesty and compassion clearly based on Chinese religious thinking. Several college students in Beijing (though filming mostly is in Taiwan) join the assembled group.

However, Secretary Yang (played by Tzu-Chiang Wang), while observing the group, realizes that Falun Gong has attracted almost 70 million, far more persons than the Chinese Communist Party, and he resolves to eliminate Falun Gong as a threat to party dominance. Falun Gong is then banned. An initial propaganda stunt places a man on camera falsely admitting that he killed his parents at the instruction of Falun Gong. Among the college students, Wang (Ting Wu), Li (He Tao), Jun (Shih Cheng-Hao), and Xia (Chen Ying-Yu) are determined to counter the false propaganda. At first, they try to file a complaint, next they unveil banners, and later even distribute leaflets. But that makes them prime targets for repression.

Soon, Jun and Xia are arrested and tortured to ascertain names and addresses of those behind the counterpropaganda. Jun’s death comes after an extremely vivid scene of torture; he represents at least 2,000 Falun Gong adherents who have been tortured and executed. Next, the Chinese authorities capture Wang, a Ph.D. student who risks his career and well as his life in a determination to fight the crackdown. One day, when Wang is interrogated by Secretary Yang, Wang insists upon the power of truth. He predicts that some day Yang will himself be found expendable.

Meanwhile, Chicago newspaper reporter Daniel Davis (Sam Trammell), who covered the 1989 Tiananmen Massacre, has just returned to China. He begins to assemble photos of crackdown scenes and later testimony from Wang and Xia, so he is on the wanted list and escapes to Myanmar on a river from China. When he publishes news of the crackdown of Falun Gong, Wang is in detention. Although Wang is scheduled to be executed, his worldwide fame from the newspaper publicity results in a reduction of his imprisonment to eight years. The bad publicity about China results in an arrest of Secretary Yang, just as Wang predicted.

As the film ends, Wang speaks from Detroit. (The founder now lives near Deerpark, New York, where he maintains the global headquarters of Falun Gong, which he has become allied with Donald Trump, whom he hopes will terminate the evils of Communist China.)

Directed by Leon Lee, one tagline is “When lies silence a nation,” while another is “At times to be silent is to lie.” Instead of a release in Hollywood, the Southern California moviehouse debut was in Pasadena near Gabriel Valley, where many Chinese immigrants now live. Those attending on Sunday afternoon, January 23, were indeed elderly Chinese women, and applause resounded when the film concluded. In total agreement with that sentiment, the Political Film Society has nominated Unsilenced as the best film on human rights as well as best film exposé for 2022.  MH

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