Sandstorm the Public Access Equivalent of Falun Gong Protests


If you’re unfamiliar with the practitioners of Falun Gong—peaceful spiritualists who have been persecuted by the Chinese government since the ’90s—then you’ve obviously walked blindly past their regular Midtown demonstrations, where members disperse fliers while reenacting bloody scenes of torture and caged confinement. With production values so cheap they couldn’t even afford the shoestring, writer-director Michael Mahonen’s well-intentioned but embarrassingly feeble 2004 drama comes off as the public-access video equivalent of those protests, unpaid non-professionals and all. In symbolic retribution for the abuses against the Falun Gong, nature inflicts a sinister sandstorm upon Beijing, confining police officer He Tian Ying (awkward first-timer Rong Tian) and his sickly wife indoors without water and electricity, their food and medicine supplies rapidly diminishing. In flashbacks that could’ve been shot in different corners of the same ugly room, we learn the reasons for He’s guilty conscience, as his superior forces him to oversee the murderous terrorizing of a proud Falun Gong subscriber. At best, it’s a perfunctory narrative, complete with title cards that clunkily hit the same bullet points that might appear on one of those rally fliers. No matter how many human rights organizations have acknowledged this indignity, Sandstorm is basically a biased social-issue doc having an identity crisis.