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If i told you that one of the best movies of this decade is an Erotic Tibetan one, you'd probably look at me with incredulity. Yet, there you have it, Samsara (2001) is a gorgeous metaphysical epic with soft yet strong sexuality, all against the backdrop of the Himalayas and a society so distant from our own.
Tashi (Shawn Ku) is a young Tibetan Buddhist monk who just completed his final training stage, having stayed in some cave for a whole month in solitude and medication. But, after he comes back to his monastery, he find himself full of impure thoughts and decides to leave the monastery and try to put his earthly desires behind him before returning. He settles into a village and meets with the most beautiful maiden of them all, Pema (Christy Chung). It's physical attraction and love at first sight, and marriage quick ensues. But life in the village is not simple, and conflicts with nearby villagers, a man who owns the trade through the valley, and other men who also lust after Pema, all make Tashi's life a lot more complicated to deal with. But it's Tashi's own unchecked desires that undo his life at the village.
The movie is a wonderful mix of Buddhist philosophy intermixed with earthly temptations, carnal love subdtly disguised as passionate love, and a final ode to the nature of man and woman. As Pema closes the movie, she reflects on the fact that it is in the nature of Man to leave everything behind for supposedly higher purposes, but that woman however is incapable of leaving her family, and as such is the foundation for life. The parallel between Siddhartha (who renounced his wife and family to reach enlightment and become Buddha himself) and the wife he abandonned are clear. Is it cowardice or Tashi's final realisation that any earthly feelings are doomed to fail that make him leave his wife and kids to return to the monastery? The movie ends with a Buddhist riddle: how do you prevent a drop of water from drying up?
It's an epic story of love, the search for inner-peace, and strong Buddhist philosophy that doesn't shy away from exposing some of its own contradictions. It also sports very strong sensuality and eroticism, but with a subdued Asian touch that will surprise most people. But the movie is also a detailed look at life in the Himalayas that should satisfy anyone intersted is some cultural displacement. Filmed on real locations, the movie exhudes gorgeousness and the grand scale of the mountains as the everyday backdrop for the people living there. The movie is gorgeous through and through, with beautiful mountain scapes, beautifully detailed and colorful costumes and sets. The music is sweaping, and the performances are all very convincing. The fact that many non-actors were used certainly helped give the film a more authentic feel. But special mention must be given to the two main characters, and especially the superb Christy Chung who is at the same time beautiful, sweet, and very tantalizing.
This is a movie that will transport you to a whole different universe, a lifestyle that you have probably never experienced before, and showing strong erotic material like you probably have never seen before. It's all laced up with deep philosophy, great characters and story. This movie is a feast for the eyes as much as it is a feast for the mind and the senses.
- Laurent Hasson