The film cuts to modern day Tibet where we learn that the three children, all now grown, have gone their separate ways in life. Two are a brother and sister the other their cousin. They are Dolkar (Dadon) a karaoke singer in a local Tibetan club, her brother Dorjee (Jampa Kelsang) who is sullen and out-of-work and their cousin Pema (no name in credits) a Buddhist nun.
While everything seems somewhat normal in their lives what becomes quickly evident is that all of Tibetans are living under the harsh rule of the Chinese who do not respect their sovereignty or recognize their country leaders. Most particularly they do not recognize the Dalai Lama and they don't want anyone displaying photos of the Dalai Lama - who was banished from Tibet in 1959 but who today still remains the spiritual leader of most Tibetans.
The two main characters in the film are the brother and sister, Dorjee and Dolkar, both of whom live at home with their mother father and grandmother. Dolkar has just had a bit of luck and has been chosen - with the help of her Chinese boyfriend - for a record deal in which she must sing pro-Chinese songs. Dorjee, on the other hand, is frequently sought after by the Tibetan resistance movement but he has become indifferent and cynical to the struggles of his people.
Both at the crossroads of their lives they get word that their cousin Pema has been imprisoned and tortured by the Chinese authorities for protesting. Both Dorjee and Dolkar will have to look within themselves, come together with their family, make sacrifices and understand the necessity of courage and conviction within their lives and their culture in order to help their family and themselves. Faced with the impossible task of getting the word out about their cousin they recruit the help of an American tourist (Taije Silverman) with a video camera.
Director Paul Wagner and screenwriters Julia Elliott and Thupten Tsering have a straight forward agenda and that is to present to the Western world with what is going on in Tibet today. Unlike Kundun or Seven Years in Tibet which both came out about the same time - Windhorse is not about the Buddhist culture nor does it romanticize the Tibetan culture. Instead it presents a sober view of people who live under the oppressive communist Chinese government.
Windhorse - whose title refers to Tibetan prayer flags - was shot on video for a couple of reasons. First is because of the production's small budget but too the filmmakers used video because they wanted to shoot quickly in areas of the world where they didn't want to be under the scrutiny of the Chinese authorities. While most of the film was shot in Katmandu, Nepal some of it was clandestinely shot in Lhasa, Tibet where the filmmakers had to pretend they were tourists to get their shots.
The cast is made up mostly of non-actors who fit their roles perfectly with a natural grace that a professional actor would have to force. Because of this nothing seems out of place in the film - or more precisely even though the acting is not award winning it is much more believable because everyone seems as though they are playing themselves. Due to this it makes it a bit easier to understand the struggles of the Tibetan people. And even though the story has an obvious plot line it is still effective and engaging from beginning to end. It also might be called a necessary film because it dares to confront and push a political issue that often gets lost in the romanticism and beauty most people associate with Tibet.