Free China: The Courage to Believe
Directed by Michael Perlman
The crackdown in China on practitioners of the spiritual discipline of Falun Gong has been widely documented in the West. Michael Perlman’s film puts a personal face on the persecution, in this compact documentary that focuses on two individuals: Jennifer Zeng, a mother and former Communist Party member who was sent to prison and tortured for her beliefs, and Charles Lee, a Chinese American businessman who attempted to single-handedly hack into the country’s state-controlled media and wound up in a reeducation camp as a result.
Their stories are fascinating: Zeng’s tales of horrific treatment at the hands of her jailors, who forced her to recant her beliefs in order to be reunited with her family, are deeply touching; and Lee’s tale feels like the makings of a fictional film. (While in a forced-labor camp, he made Homer Simpson slippers for sale to the United States!) Along the way are nods to other horrors—including organ harvesting from political prisoners. Thus, the film presents, starkly, the other side of the Chinese economic miracle.
But for all the human emotion on display, at times one wishes the film went further. One wonders if a film that more diligently interrogated the Chinese authorities—and even maybe confronted those who defend China’s stance against the Falun Gong—might have made a greater impact. As it is, Free China is an interesting and moving film, but it is most likely preaching to the choir.