Documentary Review: An Animated Remembrance of a Falun Gong protest in China — “Eternal Spring”

It’s only when you spend five minutes on your favorite search engine that it becomes obvious how much of what we in the West believe or known about the Buddhist offshoot, meditation-oriented religion Falun Gong is what the Paranoid People’s Republicans want us to believe.

They’re hellbent on labeling this newish faith-“practice” a “cult,” and hoping like Hell the outside world will conflate it with the Japanese Aum Shinrikyo “doomsday” cult that attacked Japan’s subways with a nerve agent in the mid-90s. Because, I guess, most Westerners won’t know the difference.

So pervasive is China’s communist party’s anti-Falun Gong propaganda and well-publicized efforts to wipe Falun Gong out that you barely here about China’s Uyghur genocide or policy of crushing Tibetan Buddhism and bad-mouthing the Dalai Lama.

All of which I bring up as a preamble to reviewing the terrific animated documentary “Eternal Spring,” about the brutal and sometimes fatal persecution of Falun Gong practitioners in China, which reached a peak after some members of the religion decided to fight back against Chinese propaganda about their worldwide religious movement.

This Jason Loftus film is a part straightforward documentary, following Falun Gong member and Chinese expat Daxiong as he travels from Toronto to New York to Seoul to talk to co-religionists from his hometown, the Chinese city of Chang Chun. But Daxiong is a famous comic book illustrator and artist. So using his storyboards and drawings, the film recreates landmark events from China’s crackdown and takes us back to the late ’90s and early 2000s, letting us meet the people and in some cases hear their accounts and stories, with animated illustration.

What triggered the even-tougher crackdown, mass arrests, beatings and deaths in custody was a caper that the film recreates. Some Falun Gong adherents in Chang Chun decided they’d push back against the relentless state-controlled TV criticism and “hijack” the signal to broadcast the “news” to Chinese people that this condemned and persecuted “cult,” born in China, was Buddhism-based, and had spread all around the world.

Residents watching their evening newscast got treated to the shocking sight of people meditating and doing proscribed exercises in front of the Eiffel Tower and elsewhere. When this event is animated, we see people at home and in restaurants slack-jawed in awe at what they’re watching, the mere idea that some religious minority could fight the totalitarian state and get its message out.

That would make a feel-good caper comedy in the right hands, you’d figure. But s Daxiong and others who fled China relate in the film, they paid a staggering price for fighting back.

“They’d kill a thousand people just to catch one,” one survivor says.

The small group that pulled off this stunt helps Daxiong and Loftus recreate the labor camp “indoctrination,” the police beatings, escape attempts and the like.

And through Daxiong’s vivid and realistic drawings, rendered into mid-grade animation in assistance of a gripping story, we get to know not only persecuted Falun Gong survivors, but those who perished opposing the one-party dictatorship.

The film can be accused of imparting martyrdom on those arrested and killed because of their faith. But those doing the accusing would either being CCP mouthpieces or their online trolls and trollbot supporters.

In any event, “Eternal Spring” makes for an informative and riveting addition to the ranks of animated documentaries, films that have included “Waltz with Bashir” and “Chicago 10.” It’s an engaging way to tell a compelling story that, as Daxiong puts it, makes “art based on shared memory” when live action footage is simply not an option.

Rating: unrated, animated depictions of violence

Cast: Daxiong

Credits: Scripted by and directed by Jason Loftus. A Lofty Sky release.

Running time: 1:26

About Roger Moore

Movie Critic, formerly with McClatchy-Tribune News Service, Orlando Sentinel, published in Spin Magazine, The World and now published here, Orlando Magazine, Autoweek Magazine
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