Theater of Cruelty

The letter from hell

Letter from Masanjia
A letter hidden in a halloween decoration changes the life of both the Chinese sender and the American recipient. At the same time, it exposes the dividend in the international mass production industry.


Julie Keith is home with her husband and children in the Oregon kitchen. The choice of "theme" for her daughter's birthday party means she opens a box purchased two years earlier at the American chain Kmart. Soon, the woman will become famous in her hometown, state, and worldwide. But she still does not know that she will carry the handwritten letter from a persecuted Falun Gong practitioner in China, on a long inner and outer journey. That letter will change her view of the products she buys and the thoughts of who produces them and under what conditions. In this way, not only does the letter of prayer have great implications for those directly affected, but the incident – and the film – creates an awareness of yield, mass production and production conditions.

creation Process

Sun Yi – the letter writer – has escaped prison and is shocked by supplying the Chinese firewall on his computer: His cry for help has become a viral world news. His fear of reprisals is well-founded. Equally, he decides to use the attention the letter has given him to focus on the conditions of the Masanjia labor camp, and to convey through the film media the persecution and outrage that Falun Gong practitioners are subjected to. The ability of filmmaking to transform and provide redress is inspiring. There is also something very similar and similar to how Sun Yi, through skype contact with Canadian filmmaker Leon Lee, gets the necessary equipment and educates himself. The world is suddenly smaller and warmer – and there is hope and a desire for change.

The film gives good environmental descriptions from a previously unexposed China. Everyday outings with dating and a snack go hand in hand with a mind-boggling network of Falun Gong followers in active and risky resistance work. Sun Yi's gentle and caring nature carries the spectator through the brutal story being shared. The appalling depictions of the prison, and the inhuman torture he and others suffered, make an impression. That the flashbacks appear in animated form gives the necessary distance to the detailed depictions of bestiality. A prison guard bursts into tears as he testifies about Sun Yi's many years of suffering. There is something deeply human this film's ability to embrace, which sets it apart and elevates it over other films. Maybe it's a blend of the close in the main characters and the story of the individual's potential for influence – even against a powerful and relentless regime like China.

This is the story that one person can make a difference

This is not just a story where reality transcends fiction, but also the story that a man or woman can make a difference. It's just a matter of seeing the possibilities: Sun Yi realizes that the burial supports of isopore that he paints black should be exported abroad. He seizes the straw: the opportunity to convey the cruelty of forced labor to the rest of the world. It seems so simple, so actionable. The film reveals the opposite, because the way to get written and smuggled out a letter was long and very painful. For him and for many others. At the same time, it is not just the body being punished: The prisoner separates Sun Yi from the wife he loves, both while he is arrested and later. The story of her suffering burden and their attempts to keep marriage alive despite the persecution of the authorities is strong. The weave between private relations, the political and the historical makes it Letters from Masanjia abilities to touch and captivate the viewer deeply.

Life and big politics

The film may be somewhat short in terms of the historical. The spiritual movement Falun Gong was banned in China in 1999, and the film emphasizes that it was the movement's many supporters – 100 million against the Communist Party's 60 million – that triggered regime uncertainty and aggression. At the same time, Falun Gong is not the only movement of this type with such a large fan base in China. Falun Gong's ability to mobilize tens of thousands in peaceful and peaceful protest in April 1999 was also a major factor in the Communist Party's view of the movement as a threat. The subsequent demonization campaign by the practitioners created a picture of a dangerous and violent sect that spread far beyond the borders. Falun Gong, on the other hand, had originally gained ground because of the opposite: The authorities first noticed the health effects of thousands who trained and meditated together. The focus on soft values ​​led to the decline in crime. The hard reprisals against Falun Gong therefore came abruptly.

Yi focuses on conditions in the Masanjia labor camp.

Parts of this have been highlighted in the past, including in the film Hard to Believe (2016), on organ harvesting from Falun Gong practitioners, and The Persecution of Falun Gong (2015). The regime in China, which is so relentless and controlled that it is willing to resort to all means to maintain power and hide its flaws, several filmmakers and artists have put the spotlight on. As the acclaimed Chinese artist Ai Weiwei, with his many documentaries and works.

Major politics notwithstanding: the close narrative of the way of life, perseverance and thoughtfulness of both Sun Yi and Julie Keith – and their significance for each other – is extraordinary and enriching.

The movie is shown on HUMAN International Documentary Film Festival,
25. February to 3. March 2019

Ellen Lande
Ellen Lande
Lande is a film writer and director and a regular writer for Ny Tid.

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