24 december 2015

Buddhist movies

Update January 2016, Xuanzang is a movie about the Chinese monk who brought Buddhism from India to China. 
Update December 2015, my personal recommendations:
  • Osamu Tezuka's Buddha (animation adapted from the canonical work of the "godfather" of Japanese manga)
  • The Buddha (documentary narrated by Richard Gere, includes interview with HH the Dalai Lama)
  • Tashi and the Monk (a Tibetan monk and his community)

Interested in Buddhism, the religion that connects all of Asia? (As all Asian countries, at some point in their history, have been influenced by it.) Try reading a book or watching a movie! Perhaps you are drawn to its philosophy, rituals, mysticism or thousands of years old culture. If anything, spirituality is said to relieve stress.

After listing the best Korean, Japanese, Chinese and Indian movies, below a list of the best Buddhist films and documentaries according to IMDb. The movies are split between Asian and Western productions. The ones made in Hollywood tend to be more popular, not to mention movies like The Matrix (not in this list) that have Buddhist themes, but it is in my opinion far fetched, or too diluted.

Other widely enjoyed films are action movies with for example Kung Fu (Bruce Lee) and Muay Thai or Thai kickboxing (Ong Bak) that draw huge crowds and gain critical acclaim. According to a legend most Asian martial arts are closely related to for example Zen, as the founder of this school - Bodhidharma - is affiliated with the cradle of Kung Fu, the Buddhist Shaolin Temple. Most scholars are aware of this fact, and probably most avid martial arts fans. However, in these blockbusters usually the Buddhist roots of say - Yip Man - are simply not very tangible. Which is why, they are not included below. Too strict? Perhaps, but otherwise the list would be full of boxing monks, ninjas and samurai...

The films are ranked by average score followed by number of votes. A description of each movie is included as well.

I am a Buddhist, I believe in nothing(ness). _/|\_

Asian productions

1. Spring, Summer, Fall, Winter... and Spring (Bom yeoreum gaeul gyeoul geurigo bom) 8.1
This film takes place in an isolated lake, where an old monk lives on a small floating temple. The wise master has also a young boy with him that teaches to become a monk. And we watch as seasons and years pass by. 35.111 votes

2. The Burmese Harp (Biruma no tategoto) 8.1
In the War's closing days, when a conscience-driven Japanese soldier fails to get his countrymen to surrender to overwhelming force, he adopts the lifestyle of a Buddhist monk. 2.574 votes

3. Kaidan 7.9
This film contains four distinct, separate stories. "Black Hair": A poor samurai who divorces his true love to marry for money, but finds the marriage disastrous and returns to his old wife, only to discover something eerie about her. "The Woman in the Snow": Stranded in a snowstorm, a woodcutter meets an icy spirit in the form of a woman spares his life on the condition that he never tell anyone about her. A decade later he forgets his promise. "Hoichi the Earless": Hoichi is a blind musician, living in a monastery who sings so well that a ghostly imperial court commands him to perform the epic ballad of their death battle for them. But the ghosts are draining away his life, and the monks set out to protect him by writing a holy mantra over his body to make him invisible to the ghosts. But they've forgotten something. "In a Cup of Tea": a writer tells the story of a man who keep seeing a mysterious face reflected in his cup of tea. Written by Kathy Li. 6.529 votes

4. The 36th Chamber of Shaolin (Shao Lin san shi liu fang) 7.7
The anti-Ching patriots, under the guidance of Ho Kuang-han, have secretly set up their base in Canton, disguised as school masters. During a brutal Manchu attack, Lui manages to escape and devotes himself to learning the martial arts in order to seek revenge. In a short period of time he masters the deadly use of his fists, feet and palms, along with such weapons as swords, sticks, and lances. With his learning complete, he takes on the Manchus. 6.754 votes

5. A Touch of Zen (Xia nu) 7.5
An artist, Ku, lives with his mother near an abandoned fort, reputed to be haunted. One night, investigating strange noises, he meets the beautiful Yang who is living there. She is being pursued by agents of an Imperial noble who have murdered her family. Ku finds himself caught up in her struggle to survive, and many fierce battles take place before all is resolved. Action adventure with a lyrical feel, this is a kung fu film with a strong spiritual element. Written by Richard Hills . 1.817

6. Why Has Bodhi-Dharma Left for the East?: A Zen Fable (Dharmaga tongjoguro kan kkadalgun) 7.5
Three people live in a remote Buddhist monastery near Mount Chonan: Hyegok, the old master; Yong Nan, a young man who has left his extended family in the city to seek enlightenment - Hyegok calls him Kibong!; and, an orphan lad Haejin, whom Hyegok has brought to the monastery to raise as a monk. The story is mostly Yong Nan's, told in flashbacks: how he came to the monastery, his brief return to the city, his vacillation between the turbulence of the world and his hope to overcome passions and escape the idea of self. We also see Hyegok as a teacher, a protector, and a father figure, and we watch Haejin make his way as a curious and nearly self-sufficient child. Written by jhailey@hotmail.com. 741 votes

7. Samsara 7.4
A spiritual love-story set in the majestic landscape of Ladakh, Himalayas. Samsara is a quest; one man's struggle to find spiritual Enlightenment by renouncing the world. And one woman's struggle to keep her enlightened love and life in the world. But their destiny turns, twists and comes to a surprise ending... Written by Monsoon Films. 3.266 votes

8. Travellers and Magicians 7.2
The two men embark on parallel, if separate, journeys. Their yearning is a common one--for a better and different life. Dondup, delayed by the timeless pace of his village, is forced to hitchhike through the beautiful wild countryside of Bhutan to reach his goal. He shares the road with a monk, an apple seller, a papermaker and his beautiful young daughter, Sonam. Throughout the journey, the perceptive yet mischievous monk relates the story of Tashi. It is a mystical fable of lust, jealousy and murder, that holds up a mirror to the restless Dondup, and his blossoming attraction to the innocent Sonam. The cataclysmic conclusion of the monk's tale leaves Dondup with a dilemma--is the grass truly greener on the other side? Written by Sujit R. Varma. 1.389 votes

9. Milarepa 7.1
Milarepa is a tale of greed and vengeance - demons, magic, murder and redemption. It is the story of the man who became Tibet's greatest mystic. 448 votes

10. Blue Snake (Ching Se) 6.9
Two snake spirits become human and learn about love and suffering. A monk discovers his own weaknesses and finds that morality is not as simple as he had thought. 1.173 votes

Western productions

1. The Cremator (Spalovac mrtvol) 7.8
Kopfrkingl enjoys his job at a crematorium in Czechoslovakia in the late 1930s. He likes reading the Tibetan book of the dead, and espouses the view that cremation relieves earthly suffering. At a reception, he meets Reineke, with whom he fought for Austria in the first World War. Reineke convinces Kopfrkingl to emphasize his supposedly German heritage, including sending his timid son to the German school. Reineke then suggests that Kopfrkingl's half-Jewish wife is holding back his advancement in his job. Written by Will Gilbert. 2.670 votes

2. Kundun 6.9
From childhood to adulthood, Tibet's fourteenth Dalai Lama deals with Chinese oppression and other problems. 15.608 votes

3. Lost Horizon 7.7
A plane crash delivers a group of people to the secluded land of Shangri-La -- but is it the miraculous utopia it appears to be? 6.931 votes

4. Himalaya 7.2
An aging chief's last stand, lessons for the new, and the education of a young chief-to-be played against harsh Nature in Nepal's Dolpo. When his son dies returning from Tibet's salt lakes, Tinle blames Karma, his son's friend, refuses to give Karma his blessing as the new chief, and organizes a rival caravan to take the salt to lower Nepal to trade for grain. He, a few old men, his son's widow, his grandson, and his second son, a monk, set out on the arduous journey. Fearing storms, Karma has led his caravan out of the village before the auspicious day ordained by the lamas. Tinle's group catches Karma's before the final pass; the two stubborn men lock wills with Tinle's grandson watching. Written by jhailey@hotmail.com. 3.508 votes

5. Enter the Void 7.1
A drug dealer becomes interested in death and re-incarnation after reading "The Tibetan Book of the Dead". Suddenly dead, his soul floats through Tokyo observing the dramas of his friends and foes. An oath determines his next step 'as a soul'. 20.585 votes

6. Seven Years in Tibet 6.8
True story of Heinrich Harrer, an Austrian mountain climber who became friends with the Dalai Lama at the time of China's takeover of Tibet. 58.952 votes


1. Buddha Wild: Monk in a Hut 8.3
Buddha Wild Monk in the Hut is the story of a group of Thai and Sri Lankan monks, living around their temple in a country far far from home. Anna Wilding gives the commentary in this unpretentious but original and illuminating film with a well-judged mixture of seriousness and humor which is in important contrast to the monks words. An enjoyable cinematic experience. A fascinating film. Written by Janet Taylor. 125 votes

2. Buddha's Lost Children 7.8
Buddha's Lost Children is a feature-length documentary film about a Thai Buddhist monk who - armed only with his faith and skills and master boxer skills - wages an inspirational battle to help orphaned children, fight drug abuse, and preserve a vanishing way of life. Written by Anonymous. 264 votes

3. What Remains of Us 7.7
A Tibetan-Canadian returns to her homeland to smuggle a secret message from the Dalai Lama and to document the occupation and cultural genocide of Tibet by China. 166 votes

4. 10 Questions for the Dalai Lama 7.4
If you could meet one person in the world, who would it be and why? Rick Ray's answer is 'The Dalai Lama.' Filmed during a private visit to his monastery in Dharamsala, India, over the course of several months, it's part biography, part philosophy, part adventure and part politics. Written by Rick Ray Films. 436 votes

5. Tibet: Cry of the Snow Lion 7.3
A film about the state of Chinese occupied Tibet and its history of oppression and resistance. 483 votes

6. Unmistaken Child 7.3
In Nepal, a venerable monk, Geshe Lama Konchog, dies and one of his disciples, a youthful monk named Tenzin Zopa, searches for his master's reincarnation. The film follows his search to the Tsum Valley where he finds a young boy of the right age who uncannily responds to Konchog's possessions. Is this the reincarnation of the master? After the boy passes several tests, Tenzin takes him to meet the Dalai Lama. Will the parents agree to let the boy go to the monastery, and, if so, how will the child respond? Central to the film is the relationship the child develops with Tenzin. Written by jhailey@hotmail.com. 476 votes

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