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Kundun (1997)

PG-13  |   |  Biography, Drama, History  |  25 December 1997 (USA)
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Ratings: 7.0/10 from 20,756 users   Metascore: 74/100
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From childhood to adulthood, Tibet's fourteenth Dalai Lama deals with Chinese oppression and other problems.


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Nominated for 4 Oscars. Another 6 wins & 8 nominations. See more awards »
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Cast overview, first billed only:
Tenzin Thuthob Tsarong ...
Gyurme Tethong ...
Tulku Jamyang Kunga Tenzin ...
Tenzin Yeshi Paichang ...
Tencho Gyalpo ...
Tenzin Topjar ...
Lobsang (5-10)
Tsewang Migyur Khangsar ...
Tenzin Lodoe ...
Geshi Yeshi Gyatso ...
Losang Gyatso ...
The Messenger (as Lobsang Gyatso)
Sonam Phuntsok ...
Reting Rinpoche
Gyatso Lukhang ...
Lobsang Samten ...
Jigme Tsarong ...
Taktra Rimpoche (as Tsewang Jigme Tsarong)
Tenzin Trinley ...


The Tibetans refer to the Dalai Lama as 'Kundun', which means 'The Presence'. He was forced to escape from his native home, Tibet, when communist China invaded and enforced an oppressive regime upon the peaceful nation of Tibet. The Dalai Lama escaped to India in 1959 and has been living in exile in Dharamsala ever since. Written by Deki

Plot Summary | Add Synopsis


The destiny of a people lies in the heart of a boy. See more »

Motion Picture Rating (MPAA)

Rated PG-13 for violent images | See all certifications »

Parents Guide:





| |

Release Date:

25 December 1997 (USA)  »

Also Known As:

Кундун  »

Filming Locations:


Box Office


$28,000,000 (estimated)

Opening Weekend:

$72,095 (USA) (26 December 1997)


£157,451 (UK) (10 April 1998)

Company Credits

Show detailed on  »

Technical Specs


Sound Mix:




Aspect Ratio:

2.35 : 1
See  »

Did You Know?


The The Dalai Lama and his family were portrayed by actual relatives of the Dalai Lama himself, now living in refugee in Dalamsala as well as abroad. Tenzin Thuthob Tsarong who played the adult Dalai Lama is his grand nephew. See more »


When the Dalai Lama flees Tibet, he has a blood blister in beneath his fingernail in the extreme closeup shots. These are not there in the medium shots, although you see his finger clearly. See more »


Indian: Are you the Lord Buddha?
Dalai Lama: I believe I am a reflection, like the moon on water. When you see me, and I try to be a good man, you see yourself.
See more »

Crazy Credits

The Touchstone Pictures logo shown after the end credits is red. See more »


Referenced in Inside the Actors Studio: Martin Scorsese (2002) See more »

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User Reviews

Quite simply a great achievement
11 June 2000 | by (Vancouver, Canada) – See all my reviews

I was very pleased to discover that this film wasnt the Scorcese dud some of the user comments and critics had suggested it to be. While I am no expert on Buddhism, I know enough about it to see how brilliantly Martin Scorcese and Melissa Mathison weaved the core philosophy into this tale of the Dalai Lama's formative years. They did it without succumbing to ostentation, sentimentality, or populist good vs evil film dramatics. And yet it showed us how human the child was--laughing as the monks meditated while a rat drank the ritual offerings; being frightened in the dark monastery; taking on the very great responsibility of leading a truly wise, noble and compassionate religion while being confronted by the threats of the modern world. I appreciated how they didnt portray the Chinese as simple villians--by including the scene where he dreams the army personnel are explaining to him why they embrace Mao's communism. And they also presented enough of the Buddhist ritual and way of life to show us how alien it is to western religions(the scene where they cut up the body for the vultures comes to mind), though they dont gloss it over by excluding comments about the Lama's isolation and loss of childhood or the corruption surrounding his first Regent. It was also quite moving to observe the devotion of his monks and people.

Scorcese really demonstrates here that he is a true film artist and master storyteller. I wholeheartedly concur with the commentator that compared this film to the Last Emperor--despite similar story frames and lengths, this motion picture doesnt drag at all. If this had been say, Steven Spielberg's project you would have expected to see some manipulative melodramatics and insincerity. And how can one not be impressed by the performances he got out of mostly non actors! That alone was amazing. The film maintained its pace from the early years to the Lama as an adult. From what little of the man I have seen on tv, his humor, and wisdom was conveyed remarkably well by Mathison's script and the actors chosen for the role.

Finally, his comment to the Indian guard near the end after being asked if he was the Lord Buddha--encapsulates the wisdom and the humility of its spiritual leader perfectly.

35 of 43 people found this review helpful.  Was this review helpful to you?

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