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Surrey filmmaker’s poli-thriller ‘Unsilenced’ sheds light on Falun Gong crackdown in China

Leon Lee’s ‘narrative feature’ opens Feb. 25 in Canadian theatres, including Landmark in Guildford
A scene from “Unsilenced,” filmed by Surrey-based director Leon Lee. (Submitted photo)

Surrey resident Leon Lee is the film director behind the political thriller “Unsilenced,” which opens in Canadian theatres Friday (Feb. 25), including Landmark Cinemas Guildford and others in Metro Vancouver.

Already shown in some U.S. theatres, the movie follows a group of Chinese students and an American journalist as they battle state censorship and oppression.

Set in China and based on real-world events, the PG-rated “narrative feature” was filmed in Taiwan due to politically sensitive subject matter.

“Unsilenced” focuses on Wang, a university student in Beijing, and his friends as their carefree days are shattered by the 1999 order that banned the spiritual practice of Falun Gong in China.


Lee met the real-life Wang in Detroit in 2018, following Wang’s escape from China.

“I was profoundly moved by his story,” Lee says in a director’s statement. “Given the country’s economic power and worldwide influence, it is extremely difficult to amplify the voices of those oppressed by the Chinese Communist Party, but I feel strong that the world needs to know.

“Wang trusted me with his story – the story of an ordinary person who believed in truth above all else,” Lee continues. “I’m going to tell it to the best of my ability. My previous work is evidence that I have track record of shining lights on human-rights violations in China. My sources trust me to tell their stories, and to tell their truths.”

Lee won a Peabody award for his debut film, 2014’s “Human Harvest,” and earned accolades for his 2018 feature documentary, “Letter From Masanjia.”

• RELATED STORY, from 2018: ‘I’d be in prison in China’: Surrey filmmaker Leon Lee shines light on a ‘message in a bottle’ story in native country.

Zhen Pictures’ 108-minute “Unsilenced” stars Sam Trammell as Daniel, the journalist, along with Anastasia Lin (as Min), Wang Tzu-Chiang (Secretary Yang) and Ting Wu (Wang). The film also features Surrey-based actor Jimmy Yi, now starring in the Arts Club Theatre Company production of “Kim’s Convenience,” at Vancouver’s Stanley Industrial Alliance Stage from Feb. 24 to March 27.

With his latest movie, Lee says he sought to strike “a balance of raw authenticity and cinematic experience, of portraying historical events and showing ongoing relevance.”

Throughout filming, he says, Lee’s crew encountered “enormous pressure and resistance,” despite the film being made outside of China.

“One can only imagine what people in China are up against,” he noted. “In a way, we begin to live the very story we were trying to tell, which, ultimately, became the thing that motivated me to persevere and overcome each obstacle.”

Lee said he hopes audiences see the “universality” of the story, and how Wang’s story is “no different from stories of oppression from all over the world.

“If Wang and people like him can speak up in China, in the face of near-insurmountable obstacles, we can speak up outside of China, where we have the freedom to do so. The truth is so easily buried, twisted or forgotten, especially in today’s world. In Wang’s own words, ‘We should all seek the truth and tell the truth.’”

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Tom Zillich

About the Author: Tom Zillich

I cover entertainment, sports and news stories for the Surrey Now-Leader, where I've worked for more than half of my 30-plus years in the newspaper business.
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