Review by Joseph Fayed
Eternal Spring is a documentary about the hijacking of television stations in Changchun, China, led by members of Falun Gong, the new religious movement cult. The film, in which events are discussed by several key figures, is told mostly through animated flashbacks.
The animation is drawn by Daxiong, a well-known comic book artist who was once a member of Falun Gong. Daxiong serves as one of the main narrators for the retelling, but despite his amount of screen time, we learn very little about his background. The biggest problem I have with the storytelling is that we are expected to learn about several different subjects, but the film decides not to necessarily focus on what would compel one to devote their entire faith to one cause.
The film does, however, go into detail about how the Chinese Communist party criminalized Falun Gong. Multiple members were either severely beaten by the police or sent to labor camps for their involvement in Falun Gong. Their treatment in China led to several members fleeing the country for good.
Those arrested claimed it was because they were "exposing the religious persecution" they had faced. Besides the few anecdotes of Falun Gong that are repeated throughout the film, we never learn much about the movement itself. If you are watching this documentary without having ever heard of Falun Gong before, then perhaps your biggest exposure to how the movement actually acted is the intercut news footage shown of public gatherings of Falun Gong. We're shown the Falun Gong risked their lives with their broadcast, but what they don't do is elaborate on the message behind it.
The biggest point the documentary tries to make is how far the Chinese Communist party went to silence members of Falun Gong. The well-drawn animation quite literally shows you every punch a member of Falun Gong would take in the custody of the police. Some members were hiding for months after the broadcast, fearing they could be arrested, as fellow members tearfully recounted their deaths behind bars.
Religious freedom is a complex subject to address on film, but what we learned about Falun Gong was more of a "where are they now?" type of documentary rather than an overview of the religion that is apparently practiced in over 100 countries. Eternal Spring has interesting stories to tell and beautiful animation to support it, but its glossing over of the Falun Gong movement makes you wonder if this was meant to be some vague recruitment tactic for viewers to join the movement.
Eternal Spring is now in theaters.