Jump to content
BANGKOK
Sign in to follow this  
camerata

Movies About Buddhism

Recommended Posts

There haven't been many Hollywood movies about Buddhism or relating to Buddhism. The ones I remember are:

Siddartha : A weak 1970s movie based on the popular Hermann Hess book. Starred Bollywood heartthrob, Shashi Kapoor as the Buddha.

Kundun : Very interesting biography of the Dalai Lama made by Martin Scorsese (who also filmed the controversial Last Temptation of Christ) in 1997. An excellent film, almost like a thriller towards the end, it doesn't go too deeply into Buddhist principles. But non-violence is a prominent theme and it does show the "exotic" side of Tibetan Buddhism, such as the Oracle and the making of sand mandalas.

The Little Buddha : This 1994 movie from Bernardo Bertolucci tells the story of the Buddha and makes it accessible to modern audiences using the story of a search for a reincarnated lama in Seattle and Katmandu. Not a bad effort at giving westerners an idea of what Buddhism is about, but it's a bit hard to take Keanu Reeves as the Buddha. I suppose they needed a star, and chose him because he's a Buddhist and has a vaguely eastern appearance due to his Hawaian ancestry. Bertolucci made movies about fascism and communism back in the 70s and 80s.

Seven Years in Tibet : Apparently the story of an Austrian Nazi whose life was changed by Tibet and the Dalai Lama. Filmed by Jean-Jacques Annaud. I haven't seen it.

Are there any others? I guess films about Buddhism would be a hard sell to a mass audience in the West.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
There haven't been many Hollywood movies about Buddhism or relating to Buddhism. The ones I remember are:

Siddartha : A weak 1970s movie based on the popular Hermann Hess book. Starred Bollywood heartthrob, Shashi Kapoor as the Buddha.

Kundun : Very interesting biography of the Dalai Lama made by Martin Scorsese (who also filmed the controversial Last Temptation of Christ) in 1997. An excellent film, almost like a thriller towards the end, it doesn't go too deeply into Buddhist principles. But non-violence is a prominent theme and it does show the "exotic" side of Tibetan Buddhism, such as the Oracle and the making of sand mandalas.

The Little Buddha : This 1994 movie from Bernardo Bertolucci tells the story of the Buddha and makes it accessible to modern audiences using the story of a search for a reincarnated lama in Seattle and Katmandu. Not a bad effort at giving westerners an idea of what Buddhism is about, but it's a bit hard to take Keanu Reeves as the Buddha. I suppose they needed a star, and chose him because he's a Buddhist and has a vaguely eastern appearance due to his Hawaian ancestry. Bertolucci made movies about fascism and communism back in the 70s and 80s.

Seven Years in Tibet : Apparently the story of an Austrian Nazi whose life was changed by Tibet and the Dalai Lama. Filmed by Jean-Jacques Annaud. I haven't seen it.

Are there any others? I guess films about Buddhism would be a hard sell to a mass audience in the West.

Nice mini-reviews.

My favourite film about Buddhism -- of the ones I've seen at any rate -- is Im Kwon-taek's Mandala, a Korean film (1981). It's about a student radical -- as you know, Seoul is full of them :o -- who becomes disenchanted with politics and decides to become a Son (Korean Zen) monk. He ends up following an older monk on his wanderings around the countryside, on foot. It's done in the style of the golden age of Japanese cinema (60s), beautiful cinematography a la Woman in the Dunes.

Korean cinema boasts a number of other films on Son Buddhism, including Why Has Bodhi-Dharma Left for the East? (1989) and A Little Monk (2003), both of which, as I understand it (haven't seen these films), are about three generations of monks.

korean buddhist films

Mandala

South Korea 1981. Director: Im Kwon-Taek

Cast: Chun Moo-Song, Ahn Song-Gi, Pang Hui, Ki Jong-Su

Kundun, Little Buddha, Why Has Bodhi-Dharma Left for the East?, The Cup - Buddhism, and its place in today's world, has been a popular subject of contemporary cinema. The magnificent Mandala dates from 1981, and was the breakthrough work of Korean master Im Kwon-Taek, director of Sopyonje (see January 7th & 9th). Based on a controversial Korean novel, Im's lyrical film traces the growing friendship between two very different monks who meet by chance while travelling by bus. Young Pobun is a recent college graduate who has broken with his girlfriend to become an ascetic. Jisan is middle-aged, cheerfully disorganized, and decidedly unorthodox: given to boozing and eating meat, and not above a little non-celibacy. Is Jisan just a mess, or has he reached a level of enlightenment that Pobun and their stricter peers have yet to attain? "A film whose spiritual integrity is reflected in the mantric calm of its measured rhythms and elegant images... [it]also works as an unexpectedly tough appraisal of the tenets and practices of a living philosophy" (Geoff Andrew). "A film of awesome emotional authority about the nature of Buddhism in the modern world... [it] explores the theme of a spiritual quest in the most sumptuous physical terms, with images of overwhelming beauty, performances of matchless assurance and, above all, an intensely moving sense of human lusts and frailties. A masterpiece" (Tony Rayns). Colour, 35mm, in Korean with English subtitles. 105 mins.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

These mini reviews are great. :o

Appreciate if any of you can tell me from where I can get copies of these movies?

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

Little Buddha

I have some personal interest in this one. One of my first teachers was a consultant for the Tibetan Buddhist authenticity. His wisdom was completely jettisoned in favour of pandering to an ignorant western audience.

Last year I built a school for street children in Kathmandu right on the site by the great stupa at Boudha where some of the film was shot, so they were thrilled when I acquired the film to show them.

In terms of entertainment it's excellent in parts - the Tibetans are real monks, not actors whereas the American stars are appalling. Some of the sequences which tell the story of Siddhartha are superbly produced, especially the Four Sights and his temptations by Mara, and I'm still very impressed by a popular film which fits in a recitation of the wonderful Heart Sutra, but overall don't take it as a documentary on Buddhism - not even Tibetan Buddhism.

Kundun

This is a very authentic portrayal of Tibetan Buddhism, but it makes no concession to an audience who have no background - it would I guess be a bit esoteric and impressionistic (I do have the 'background' so I can't put myself in those shoes) but very powerful for that.

The Cup

This happens to be my all-time favourite film. A combination of Buddhism and football - you can't beat that! It's very funny and also truly authentic in a way that is very different to Kundun. Kundun is about the early life of His Holiness the Dalai Lama of course and there aren't many laughs to be had there; The Cup is about the other side of Tibetan monastic life. When you live in Boudha, Kathmandu, in the midst of all these mega-monasteries and you can't get a PC in a cyber-cafe 'cos there all filled with little monklets playing Doom, you quickly realise that as in Thai monasteries, not all the guys are there for deeply spiritual reasons. The Cup shows this - some worldly monks trying to get to see the world cup against the wishes of the abbott. But just like the real-life counterparts, they're good lads, just not wholly focussed on religious practises. Nobody's bad, nobody dies - it's a real feel-good movie with the best ending EVER!

Himalaya a.k.a. Caravan

This is the ultimate in authenticity. A French director found an extremely remote village in the Himalayas and told the villagers to play themselves. The village is just over the border in Nepal and whilst it's not a film about Buddhism, Buddhism forms an integral part of the story about a yak caravan trying to combat the elements. It's the absolute antithesis of an all-action Hollywood movie but I challenge you to keep a dry eye when a yak dies. A must-see. When I show it to my Nepali friends they all say that's not a film, it's a documentary.

I've never yet got hold of the Korean Zen films, which I'd dearly love to see. I don't know of any Theravada-based films.

Where to get? Are they not available in the market for a few baht? I don't know.

  • Like 1

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

Oh! Oh! How could I forget THAT film!? Kindofa Leftfield one this, but there is a movie which presents the Buddhist view of Reality, 'Seeing Things How They Really Are' (a Pali synonym for enlightenment', and you've all seen it.

The Matrix. :o

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

How could I forget? There's also that old 1937 classic, Lost Horizon in which a diplomat's plane crashes in the mountains of Tibet and he finds Shangri-la (i.e. Shambala), where everyone lives happily by being kind to one another. Haven't seen that one since I was a kid.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
These mini reviews are great.  :o

Appreciate if any of you can tell me from where I can get copies of these movies?

The Cup, Little Buddha, Himalaya, Why Has Bodhi-Dharma Left for the East? and Kundun are all available via amazon.com.

I had no luck finding a place with A Little Monk or Mandala on DVD or VHS.

Another nice film with a Buddhist theme is The Burmese Harp, directed by Kon Ichikawa in 1956 and based on a Japanese novel that came out around that same time. It's about a Japanese soldier who is sent to Burma during WWII, becomes disillusioned with the Japanese occupation of SE Asia, deserts the army and becomes a wandering Theravada monk. I've seen this excellent film three or four times. Available on DVD and VHS online.

Some of the amazon reviews are fun to read, like this one for Why Has Bodhi-Dharma Left for the East:

Bae Yong-kyun's Zen masterpiece. Acclaimed by critics and audiences throughout the world, "Why Has Bodhi-Dharma Left for the East?" is simply one of the most ravishing films ever made. In a remote monastery high up in the mountains, an old master, a young monk and an orphaned boy devote themselves to their Buddhist teachings. As the master faces death, he becomes more desperate to lead his disciples away from the outside world and point them toward their quest for enlightenment. This magnificent film, astonishingly rich in its formal beauty and affirmation of life, is not only a cinematic gem but a transcendent evocation of the mystery and humanity of Zen Buddhism. Selected as "One of the Ten Best Films of All Time" in the 1993 Sight & Sound Critics Poll.

  • Like 1

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

A Little Monk is available at Hong Kong-based www.yesasia.com and Hawaii-based www.hkflix.com. The former is more reliable. HKFlix can take ages to get stuff that's out of stock and customer support is disorganized (it's a husband and wife business).

http://global.yesasia.com/en/PrdDept.aspx/...section-videos/

http://www.hkflix.com/xq/asp/filmID.529041/qx/details.htm

Mandala (a.k.a. A Buddhist Ascetic Mandara) is only available in Korean without subtitles.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

Tina Turner's biopic, 'What's Love Got to Do With It', is partly about how she met Nichiren Buddhism at one of her low points, and how she managed to change her whole life round. Regrettably she also went from great R&B to making awful AOR!

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
A Little Monk is available at Hong Kong-based www.yesasia.com and Hawaii-based www.hkflix.com. The former is more reliable. HKFlix can take ages to get stuff that's out of stock and customer support is disorganized (it's a husband and wife business).

http://global.yesasia.com/en/PrdDept.aspx/...section-videos/

http://www.hkflix.com/xq/asp/filmID.529041/qx/details.htm

Mandala (a.k.a. A Buddhist Ascetic Mandara) is only available in Korean without subtitles.

thanks camerata.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

I finally got to see Seven Years in Tibet - not bad but it's hard to emphathise with the rather unpleasant main character. Not much about Buddhism in it. Kundun is far better.

The Cup, on the other hand, is a little gem.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

Dharma River, Journey of a Thousand Buddhas (Laos, Thailand, Burma)

www.directpictures.com/2/dharma_preview.html

This is a visually stunning, high production quality, mini-documentary (almost a travelogue) that is reasonably priced. Unfortunately, it may only be available in NTSC (USA) format. But it will play on any multi-media PC with DVD player.

(very slick web site, too)

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
Dharma River, Journey of a Thousand Buddhas (Laos, Thailand, Burma)

www.directpictures.com/2/dharma_preview.html

This is a visually stunning, high production quality, mini-documentary (almost a travelogue) that is reasonably priced. Unfortunately, it may only be available in NTSC (USA) format. But it will play on any multi-media PC with DVD player.

(very slick web site, too)

Looks like a good film documentary. The website says it's also available on DVD.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

About 15 to 20 years ago they had a serie on the thai tv and it was going over the live of "Prowet Sandon" .

Or the Buddha in his former live with his wife and children.

Was a nice serie to watch but i can't find it no more(was on VHS tape also).

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

There's a movie called Samsara which sounds pretty interesting. Tibetan language with English subtitles. It stars Christy Chung, who was in the Thai movie Jan Dara. You can get it from YesAsia.com.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

Create an account or sign in to comment

You need to be a member in order to leave a comment

Create an account

Sign up for a new account in our community. It's easy!

Register a new account

Sign in

Already have an account? Sign in here.

Sign In Now
Sign in to follow this  

  • Recently Browsing   0 members

    No registered users viewing this page.

×
×
  • Create New...