Film Review: ‘Unsilenced’–Risking Life When Lies Silence a Nation

By Richard Hui
Richard Hui
Richard Hui
Richard Hui is a scholar of philosophy and a China current affairs commentator now living in the United States. 
January 26, 2022Updated: January 31, 2022


The film “Schindler’s List” reminds the audience of the crimes that took place at the Auschwitz concentration camp, and imprints historical events and figures on their minds with vivid images. After World War II, the Nuremberg trials exposed the Nazis’ crimes and the international community promised multiple times to not let the evils of Auschwitz reoccur.

However, “the world forgets and forgets quickly,” says Daniel Davis (Sam Trammell), a character who provides a clear narrative and a unique perspective for the film “Unsilenced.”

The historical film “Unsilenced,” directed by Peabody Award-winning director Leon Lee, is based on a real-life event that reveals the holocausts that continue today in China.

Film Synopsis

Daniel, an American journalist for the Chicago Post in the film, was gagged by the Chinese regime for ten years for reporting the truth about the Tiananmen Square massacre and speaking up for students. In the spring of 1999, he regained the journalist visa granted by the regime and continued his career as a journalist after returning to China. He however no longer reported on sensitive subjects deemed by the regime, not because of his compromise, but because the students he had interviewed were killed by the regime.

The college students in their prime pursuing democracy and freedom portray a sharp contrast to the brutal Chinese Communist Party (CCP) which regards human nature and freedom as the enemy of its authority. The world saw the evil of the CCP through the Tiananmen Square massacre in 1989.

Yet, as Daniel lamented, “The world forgets and forgets quickly.” The international community soon forgot the Tiananmen Square massacre and embraced the CCP to a greater extent than before. For instance, the U.S.–China bilateral agreement regarding China’s accession to the World Trade Organization (WTO) concluded in Beijing on Nov. 15, 1999, and China officially became a member of the WTO in November 2001.

Meanwhile, the CCP launched an unprecedented persecution campaign against 100 million Falun Gong adherents in China in July 1999. The torture and murder that followed are far worse than the Tiananmen Square massacre in terms of scope, number, extent, and duration. Sadly, as of today, the international community has little knowledge about the truth of the situation.

“Unsilenced” unfolds in such an era: a spring day of 1999, ten years after the Tiananmen Square massacre at Tsinghua University in Beijing, the most prestigious high education institution in China. Two Chinese couples parked their bicycles at a Falun Gong practice site on the campus.

doing Falun Dave exercises in the park
People performing peaceful Falun Gong exercises in a park in China, in a scene from “Unsilenced.” (Flying Cloud Productions)

Falun Gong, also known as Falun Dafa, is an ancient, traditional Chinese mind-body practice guided by the principles of truthfulness, compassion, and tolerance.

Without any official promotion, Falun Gong experienced a meteoric rise in popularity after it was introduced to the public in Changchun city of North China in 1992. By 1998, according to Chinese official statistics, Falun Gong adherents had reached 70 million to 100 million and outnumbered CCP members.

Especially in Chinese colleges and universities, a considerable number of professors and students practiced Falun Gong. The two young couples in the film are Falun Gong adherents from Tsinghua University.

The protagonist of “Unsilenced,” Wang (Ting Wu), is a doctoral candidate in Electronic Engineering at Tsinghua University. After practicing Falun Gong, he improved his morality and does not fabricate data when applying for scientific research grants.

Notably, Chinese universities and the CCP officialdom alike are corrupt given that falsifying data and plagiarizing papers are common phenomena in universities. The application of scientific research grants is tantamount to a power-money transaction that involves profit.

Conversely, Falun Gong is like a clear stream that flows into the hearts of students. Not only does it enable students to show their human nature and youthful vigor, but it infuses the spirit of truth-seeking in academic research into Chinese universities that have been tainted by the CCP.

However, the CCP choked off this clear stream’s development in China. Similar to a monetary principle in economics—that bad money drives out good money in circulation—the CCP propagates lies about Falun Gong for fear of its tenets of truthfulness, compassion, and tolerance. If Chinese people led a life of righteousness and sought truth, the CCP that builds its foundation and authority on lies would disintegrate itself.

Out of fear of losing power, former CCP leader Jiang Zemin launched a genocidal campaign against Falun Gong adherents. He believes that Falun Gong competes with the Party for the masses and that the Falun Gong issue is a political struggle for the life and death of the CCP.

Impressive Elements

Concise and Powerful Dialogues: What makes “Unsilenced” very impressive is the concise and powerful dialogues that highlight the characters’ attributes. Most importantly, the well-crafted details exhibit Falun Gong adherents’ unwavering spirit and belief under persecution.

One dialogue sets the tone for the entire film. Wang’s best friend, Jun, questions him, “What can you change, alone?” Wang firmly answers, “At least I can remain unchanged.”

The CCP’s goal of persecuting Falun Gong adherents is to have them renounce their practice and beliefs. However, Wang’s answer tells the audience that the CCP will not succeed.

So, what kind of ordeals will Falun Gong adherents go through in the face of the CCP’s violence machine and how will they cope with it? How will Chinese society and the international community react? These are the elements that the film presents.

Needless to say, it is grueling work to tell the story of the persecution of Falun Gong and the efforts of those to stop it, and present the thrilling scenes of the historical truth from historical depth in 108 minutes.

Meticulous Depiction and Precise Narrative and Pacing: The detailed descriptions of each historical event are on point, and are subtly integrated into the protagonists’ life experiences. These enable the narrative of the film to go smoothly, enrich the connotation, master pacing, and engage the viewers in the contradictions and conflicts that arise one after another in the plot.

For instance, one scene shows Wang getting married, depicting the best moment in life. In the next scene, upon coming out of the marriage registration office, he sees the CCP’s propaganda posters on which a murderer, who pretends to be a Falun Gong adherent, is discrediting Falun Gong.

Through these sharply contrasting scenes, the director touches the viewers’ hearts and tells them that as long as the CCP continues genocide and murder, there will be no peaceful life.

The Grand Scheme of Time and Space: “Unsilenced” tells the story of the humanitarian disaster taking place in contemporary China through two threads: the Tsinghua students who practice Falun Gong and are brutally persecuted by the CCP, and the American journalist Daniel.

Epoch Times Photo
Min (Anastasia Lin) and journalist Daniel Davis (Sam Trammell), who senses something is not quite right in the government propaganda about Falun Gong, in “Unsilenced.” (Flying Cloud Productions)

After a lapse of ten years, Daniel crosses his path with a group of Chinese students again. This creates a broad space-time background for the film, connecting the two major events in contemporary China—the Tiananmen Square massacre and the persecution of Falun Gong. Together, they build the historical depth of the film, spatially connect what has happened in China with the international response, and build the breadth of the narrative space.

Additionally, the second thread of the film, which is based on an American journalist who breaks through the CCP’s containment to report the truth of Falun Gong to the outside world, deeply integrates with the first thread. Together, they bring out the theme of the film: When the world is silent, we must speak the truth.

The climax of the film comes after the CCP security department fabricates the self-immolation at Tiananmen Square. The staged incident broadcasted to the world incites public hatred against Falun Gong in China, leaving Falun Gong adherents in a more perilous situation. Through analyzing the state-run media outlets’ self-immolation video, Daniel catches wind of the regime’s propaganda—which may be one the most malicious lies in the CCP’s history.

Daniel, who seeks the truth, finally meets with Tsinghua students who try to expose the regime’s lies. The road to truth is paved with adversities. They risk their lives to ultimately make the truth of Falun Gong known to the international community.

The final scene of the film grips the audience again. Wang pays a price for assisting Daniel in exposing the CCP internationally. The moving scene shows Wang’s rich expressions in his eyes, full of nostalgia for his wife and parents and the perseverance of his belief, as he walks through a prison corridor. As for Wang’s ultimate fate, this is left to the audience to find out in the cinema.

In response to the crimes against humanity that took place after World War II, in 2005, former U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan stated at the U.N. general assembly, “What we must not do is deny what is happening, or remain indifferent, as so many did when the Nazi factories of death were doing their ghastly work.”

As the Auschwitz massacre fades away over time in people’s memory, the world today may not realize that China, ruled by the CCP, is becoming the largest concentration camp in human history. Large-scale human rights violations and unimaginable forms of torture and killing take place in China every day. The CCP even built the world’s largest organ transplant industry by harvesting organs from live Falun Gong adherents. The world needs to know about these crimes against humanity.

Among the many films regarding Falun Gong, “Unsilenced” is unique and impressive. Its storyline is laid out in the grand scheme of time and space, and it has an international outlook. What amazes me even more is that several of the leading actors are young Taiwanese actors and that their performances are outstanding.

“Unsilenced” is worth recommending. It won an Audience Award at the 28th Austin Film Festival in 2021. It shows that the story of contemporary Chinese history that it tells is deeply imprinted on the hearts of the audience who appreciate the precious values brought by the film. “Unsilenced” is now playing in American select theaters.

Views expressed in this article are the opinions of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of The Epoch Times.