"This is not a moral play, but a documentary that through this one flaw emerges a strength which creates a compelling discourse that transcends the Chinese-Tibetan conflict"

Dirk Simon’s documentary on the Chinese-Tibetan conflict will be as it receives its limited UK release, “yesterday’s news.” Three years have elapsed since its completion and hence the focus on the 2008 Bejing Olympics.

In hindsight how could Dirk Simon bring his documentary on the Chinese-Tibetan conflict to a tidy conclusion when the story of the modern conflict between David and the mighty Chinese Goliath is incomplete; when you have the desperate few continuing their peaceful fight to return to their cultural and spiritual home? Left with only one choice, Simon ends the film with a quote that for some will label it Tibetan propaganda.

When the Dragon Swallowed the Sun fails to present us with the facts in a tightly knit three act structure: introduction followed by the presentation of the facts and rounded off with a conclusion. It is an inquisitive documentary whose meandering discussion of a complex subject runs the risk of frustrating its audience; detrimental to any documentary hoping to inform and enlighten.

For those with a sparse knowledge of the region, Simon offers us minimal background information, and therein he underestimates that any understanding that is to be achieved of this conflict is underpinned by a basic grasp of the complex history of the relationship between Tibet and China across the centuries. It is a vast and complex history that makes this modern conflict even more compelling and tragic.

So, whilst some will accuse When the Dragon Swallowed the Sun of being Tibetan propaganda, it counters to so degree any such accusation by casting a self-critical eye on the Tibetans through the persons interviewed, and who are also not wholly negative when discussing the Chinese.

This is not a moral play, but a documentary that through this one flaw emerges a strength which creates a compelling discourse that transcends the Chinese-Tibetan conflict to become a human story. Sadly, it seems necessary for Tibet and China to be opposing leading players in this fight for the right to occupy versus the basic right of freedom.

Through its meandering discourse, When the Dragon Swallowed the Sun becomes a consideration of self-preservation and comfort versus ideology or cultural principles; self-preservation on a geographical, political scale versus moral ideals, and contextualises the miracles of history when freedom has been attained against formidable odds. Through the self-conscious and critical gaze of the Tibetans, the discussion of the middle way policy of autonomy versus total independence, attitudes of the younger generations who have only ever known life in exile and are conflicted over their connection to their cultural and spiritual homeland; a discourse is created that transcends the conflict between two peoples to discover a conflict that has continually recurred throughout our history. Whilst freedom is the basic human right and which is understood by all, it is often a source of humanity’s selfishness.

Simon refuses to explore ideological certainty, but instead prefers to cast a light on Tibetan ideological pragmatism; practical solutions to the conflict.

Simon’s other flaw is losing his objectivity, using the chilling and haunting music of Philip Glass that naturally resonate on an emotional level to stimulate or coerce our emotional responses. Inevitably this suggests an ulterior motive, to compel sympathy towards the Tibetans.

In the hands of another filmmaker, it could have been an historical account as well as a look beyond the veil of this singular conflict. Any accusation of bias may be unjust as the Chinese are unlikely to have any desire to contribute to this or any discourse on the subject. Their position is clear: Tibet belongs to China.

The greatest tragedy is that whilst the West embroils itself in illegal wars on the grounds of freedom, it conveniently ignores the plight of the Tibetans out of self-interest. Meanwhile a cultural and spiritual home is being eradicated. But then this is a complex set of events and history only complicates matters, but a thorough documentary is required to educate us on this subject that When the Dragon Swallowed the Sun fails to accomplish.