Samsara (2001)

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Released 18-Nov-2003

Cover Art

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Details At A Glance

General Extras
Category Drama Interviews-Cast-Pan Nalin Interview
Featurette-Behind The Scenes
Theatrical Trailer-The Samsara
Audio Bites-4 Songs from Soundtrack
Production Notes
Theatrical Trailer-Ataranjuat
Theatrical Trailer-The Piano Teacher
Theatrical Trailer-Yi Yi
Theatrical Trailer-Spirited Away
Gallery-Production Artwork
TV Spots-Why Are We Silent? - Amnesty International
Rating Rated MA
Year Of Production 2001
Running Time 139:30 (Case: 138)
RSDL / Flipper RSDL (97:00) Cast & Crew
Start Up Menu
Region Coding 1,2,3,4,5,6 Directed By Pan Nalin

Madman Entertainment
Starring Shawn Ku
Christy Chung
Neelesha BaVora
Lhakpa Tsering
Tenzin Tashi
Jayamang Jinpa
Sherab Sangey
Kelsang Tashi
Case Amaray-Transparent-Secure Clip
RPI $29.95 Music Cyril Morin

Video Audio
Pan & Scan/Full Frame None Tibetan Dolby Digital 5.1 (448Kb/s)
Tibetan Dolby Digital 2.0 (224Kb/s)
Widescreen Aspect Ratio 2.35:1
16x9 Enhancement
16x9 Enhanced
Video Format 576i (PAL)
Original Aspect Ratio 2.35:1 Miscellaneous
Jacket Pictures Yes
Subtitles English Smoking Yes
Annoying Product Placement No
Action In or After Credits No

NOTE: The Profanity Filter is ON. Turn it off here.

Plot Synopsis

    After three years, three months, three weeks and three days in isolation, meditating in a deep trance, Tashi (Shawn Ku) – a Ladakh monk – is returned to his temple. However, he has returned changed, filled with sexual desires he cannot control. During a stay with a local farming community, Tashi has a chance encounter with Pema (Christy Chung) who he dreams curls up to him in the night. Only later, he discovers it was no dream. Rebelling against his monastic schooling, Tashi returns to the farming community and begins a passionate love affair with Pema. But as he becomes part of her family and part of the people, he finds that his desires and passions are harder and harder to control.

    The Samsara is a strange and yet compelling film; a spiritual love story which begins by questioning Buddhism and slowly takes the foundations of the belief apart. Certainly, the start is somewhat ponderous, portraying in detail the life of the monks. But that may just be my impulsive impatience. Once it gets going, however, there is something strangely hypnotic about it. The clash of human drama and passionate desire; of morality and lust.

    The film certainly makes the best of its setting, with stunning cinematography capturing the barren wastelands of Ladakh, a distant province of India wedged in between Tibet and Pakistan at an altitude of 15,000 feet above sea level. And the performance by Chung is a wonder to behold.

    Still, it should be noted that this is really not a film that will appeal to everyone, and you will likely benefit from an interest in Buddhist philosophy and spiritualism before you go into this film. This is really cinematographic art, or cinema literature, rather than cinema entertainment. Approach this with a Zen frame of mind, and you will most likely enjoy it, but the commercial audience should probably stay away.

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Transfer Quality


    Presented in the original aspect ratio of 2.35:1, 16x9 enhanced, this is a surprisingly clear, crisp and clean transfer.

    There is relatively little grain, and colours are radiant, with some great shots of autumnal flora and the costumes of the traditional locals.

    Shadow detail is also very good, with only one night scene at 40:00 – 40:05 which seems very grainy. There was no low-level noise that I could detect.

    MPEG artefacts were non-existent, although there were a couple of film-to-video artefacts – some slight aliasing, and the occasional moment of moire – but nothing distracting.

    There was the odd bit of dirt here and there, and a brief wobble in the film at 41:24 which is probably the result of a reel change. Otherwise, this print is very clean.

    Subtitles are yellow with black borders and easy to read. I have no way of telling whether they stay true to the original story or not, but surmise that they do. I didn’t catch any typos, but there was a censored curse which replaced a word with a box symbol.

    The dual-layer pause is at 97:00. It occurs during a scene change and is only minimally distracting.

Video Ratings Summary
Shadow Detail
Film-To-Video Artefacts
Film Artefacts


    There are two soundtracks present: a Tibetan 5.1 Dolby Digital Surround track, and a Tibetan 2.0 Dolby Digital Stereo track.

    The 2.0 Stereo track was actually very good, with a significant range so as to give a good ambient presence. However, it is far surpassed by the 5.1 Dolby Digital Surround track.

    Dialogue was clear and easy to understand at all times during both tracks, and I detected no audio sync problems.

    The surround information in the 5.1 Dolby Digital Surround track was quite good, although it is really the music by Cyril Morin which fills the soundfield out. Given that it is a fantastic score, I am very glad it was produced on this disc in its original audio mix.

    Subwoofer use was fairly good, predominantly to add extra depth to the musical score, but also to give more weight to the pounding of hooves or the roar of fire.

Audio Ratings Summary
Audio Sync
Surround Channel Use



    All menus are 16x9 enhanced and static. The main menu has the score playing in 2.0 Dolby Digital Stereo.

Pan Nalin Interview (15:13)

    Presented in 1.33:1, non-16x9 enhanced, 2.0 Dolby Digital Stereo. This is a discussion with the director of the film, Pan Nalin, and the ordeals he and his production crew went through to produce the film, as well as his inspiration for the film.

Behind The Scenes Clips

    This is a set of five short clips filmed by somebody on location with a digital camera. Presented in 1.33:1, non-16x9 enhanced, 2.0 Dolby Digital Stereo, they are: “The Little Joker” (2:54); “The Wedding Preparations” (2:43); “The Art Department” (2:43); “Kala The Dog” (2:37), and “The Costumes” (2:45).

Behind The Scenes Featurette (13:07)

    Presented in 1.33:1, non-16x9 enhanced, 2.0 Dolby Digital Stereo. A short look on location at the making of the film, probably filmed by the same person with a digital camera as the short clips were. Montaged to “Pema’s Theme” from the soundtrack.

“Why Are We Silent?” – Television Commercial (1:01)

    Presented in 1.85:1, non-16x9 enhanced, 2.0 Dolby Digital Stereo. This is the Amnesty International TV spot on the persecution of the Tibetan people.


    This is a collection of four clips: 2 from the Sufia Orchestra recordings of “Pema’s Song” and “Hala’s Theme”, presented in 2.0 Dolby Digital Stereo, and 2 tracks, “Pema’s Song” and “Fire”, from the soundtrack presented in 5.1 Dolby Digital.


    36 inset stills featuring artwork from the film.

“The Samsara” Theatrical Trailer (2:16)

    Presented in 1.85:1, non-16x9 enhanced.

Press Kit

    A collection of inset stills featuring information about the director Pan Nalin, the location Ladakh, production, and cast biographies for the lead cast.

Trailer - Atanarjuat – The Fast Runner (1:56)

    Presented in 1.85:1, non-16x9 enhanced, 2.0 Dolby Digital Stereo.

Trailer - The Piano Teacher (2:27)

    Presented in 1.85:1, non-16x9 enhanced, 2.0 Dolby Digital Stereo.

Trailer - Yi Yi (1:50)

    Presented in 1.85:1, non-16x9 enhanced, 2.0 Dolby Digital Stereo.

Trailer - Spirited Away (2:17)

    Presented in 1.85:1, non-16x9 enhanced, 2.0 Dolby Digital Stereo.

R4 vs R1

NOTE: To view non-R4 releases, your equipment needs to be multi-zone compatible and usually also NTSC compatible.

    I cannot find any information on a R1 release of this film, so must conclude that there is none.

    The R2 German release of this film would appear to lack the majority of extras provided on the R4 release. It does, however, have a German 5.1 Dolby Digital track.

    Given the above, the R4 is clearly the winner, not only on price, but on the abundance of extra features.


    The Samsara is a piece of artwork rather than a movie, and should really be viewed in that context. A spiritual love story that is a little ponderous to begin with, but has a compelling ending and a haunting score.

    The video is quite good, and most of the faults are problems with the source material not the transfer.

    The sound is excellent.

    There is a swathe of extras, the majority being quite interesting and insightful, and others being merely cute or promotional.

Ratings (out of 5)


© Edward McKenzie (I am Jack's raging bio...)
Thursday, July 17, 2003
Review Equipment
DVDPanasonic DVD-RV31A-S, using S-Video output
DisplayBeko 28" (16x9). This display device is 16x9 capable.
Audio DecoderBuilt in to amplifier/receiver.
AmplificationMarantz SR7000
SpeakersEnergy - Front, Rear, Centre & Subwoofer

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Comments (Add)
Could have been a good video transfer - Tom (read my bio)