"What is more important: satisfying a thousand desires or conquering just one?" In the majestic setting of the Himalayas, the brilliant young monk Tashi returns to the world after three years of solitary meditation in a remote hermitage. At a harvest festival he meets the beautiful Pema, and chooses to quit monastic life for the challenges and wonders of the wider world. But marriage brings sorrow as well as joy, and a spiritual quest mid the tribulations of everyday life is very different from what Tashi has been accustomed to. Soon Tashi has to decide again between his love and his faith.
Everyone who watches films has a particular genre or two that they are more than partial to. A type of film that is either a guilty pleasure or maybe just one that they can forever watch and never lose enjoyment. Venturing into other genres is not an infrequent occurrence, but it is harder to find similar levels of entertainment and enjoyment in those genres. I love martial arts and action films, I'll never grow tired of them, but the slow emotional dramas are something I find I don't have the attention span for. Despite this several years ago I bought Samsara. I knew it was not going to be my usual type of film, but when I bought it was going through a phase of buying lots of different types of films to my usual. I bought so many of them, that this other genre's films started to become my usual. I am talking about Cat. III films. While Samsara is a Cat. III film, the drama is the focus, but it was the Cat. III aspect that appealed to me. I bought it for two reasons and they both belong to the leading lady, Christy Chung.
While I admit I'm not really a drama person, if I see a really good one I do think I am able to appreciate it for being a good film and get enjoyment out of it. Samsara is a slow drama, but despite this I was able to appreciate areas of quality in the production. As the story follows Tashi, who starts the film as a monk just come out of 3 years, 3 months, 3 weeks and 3 days meditation, we are treated to many slow, lingering shots which are clearly reflecting the monks' lifestyle in that they are not in any rush to get things done. Personally having the attention span of a gnat, I was surprised to not find myself getting more bored with the slow progression of the story and each scene. This is probably mostly due to the majestic scenery on display. The film is set in the Himalayas and I'm assuming it was also filmed there, as the backdrops are nothing short of spectacularly stunning. The snow-capped mountains are poster perfect images which I could probably have watched panning shots of for hours! Another reason I wasn't as bored as expected was that slowly the viewer starts to see a difference in Tashi's character compared to his fellow monks. Given the way we are introduced to him as well, this difference is also at odds to the pre-judged idea of what he was going to be like. He's clearly not as devout as you would imagine a monk to be, with desires that don't go coincide well with his status. Through opening myself up to the more slow, possibly slightly arty, drama that Samsara was seeming to be, I was gaining interest in the proceedings and looking forward to their development as this film progressed.
The main desire that Tashi slowly succumbs to, and one of the main themes in the film, is sex. Not having come from a monastic background, I would state that he is only male after all! Admittedly if I met Christy Chung somewhere I'd probably have wild sex dreams concerning her too. Christy, as Pema, a farm daughter, is the female lead, the object of desire for Tashi and the human eye-candy. She's a strange actress in my mind. From a career in Hong Kong films, she did some films such as this and Jan Dara in other parts of Asia, but also started to take her clothes off in front of the camera. That is in absolutely no way a criticism, and indeed was a major reason in me buying this film, but I wonder what made her make such a career decision? Doing the more dramatic roles in those two films may have been a move for more credible films and acting. Given that her next film was The Medallion this may not have been the case. Here she puts in a credible performance, if maybe looking a little too American for her setting, what with her pearly white teeth.
The film's progression is slow, but slowly we see Tashi's new life develop and this is where the main elements of the story are focused. He encounters desire and lust, but will he succumb to them, social politics start to play an unfamiliar role in his life as the contrast between a farmer and father's life and life as a monk becomes more evident. It is the character development, the choices Tashi is confronted with, the decisions he makes and the circumstances in doing so are the message behind the film. It is slow moving, but as they say, slow and steady wins the race, and the film does reach a meaningful conclusion. I did find it quite hard going at times as this is not the sort of film I'm used to, but it was made a lot easier due to several sex scenes!
I find this sort of drama film the hardest to comment on as I do look at it a little from the action-fan point of view. The acting is credible, the story is intriguing and thought provoking in places, particularly in view of Christy Chung's final monologue on screen, the scenery is awe-inspiring, but the film is maybe a little over-long. That aside I am glad that I watched the film, even if it is not one that I would go back to again.
Audio & Subtitles
The only audio track on this DVD is a Tibetan DD 2.0 track. On the back of the DVD box it states it is in Ladakhi (Ladakha apparently being the region of India in which the film takes place), so I don't know whether that is the same as Tibetan or not. Anyway, being a 2.0 track, there isn't really much to get excited about. All the audio is clear with reasonable sound balance.
The subtitles are of a high standard. I literally noticed maybe one or two errors in the film's duration, so nothing major to complain about at all.
The anamorphic widescreen transfer shows signs of a little bit of graininess on the print, but colours are clear and natural looking. Sometimes the distant mountains look a little washed out, but I'm guessing that could be more due to haze or something like that. The print was very clean and detail was pretty good too.
DVD & Extras
The first thing I noticed about this release was that it was a 2 DVD release. Lots of extras I originally thought... WRONG! There are no extras whatsoever here, and the film is split over the 2 DVDs, with about 70 minutes roughly on each disc. Both are apparently single layer DVDs, so some genius somewhere obviously made the great decision to split the film on 2 single layer DVDs rather than not have it split on double layer DVD. The 2 DVDs come in their own DVD case, housed in an outer slipcase.
Samsara is as decent a slow, epic drama style film as I recall seeing. Films like this will just never completely hit the spot with me as they are simply not my type of film, but as this one was quite good I could see the merits on display.