Mountain Patrol: Kekexili
Directed by Lu Chuan. Starring Duo Bujie, Zhang Lei, Qi Liang, Xueying Zhao. (2004, NR, 90 min.)
REVIEWED By Marrit Ingman, Fri., May 26, 2006
Tibetans are a deeply spiritual and nonviolent people, but they can still kick ass, as this international co-production from Goldwyn and National Geographic (a co-distributor of the bird doc March of the Penguins) reminds. Winner of Hong Kong’s Golden Horse for Best Picture, the movie follows Ri Tai (Duo Bujie), a self-appointed game warden and his ragtag band of volunteers, across Kekexili – “the last virgin wilderness of China” – in search of poachers decimating the Tibetan antelope, whose pelts are spun into fine wool sold abroad. Kekexili is a treacherous plain four miles high, beautifully desolate but at best indifferent to humanity: Travelers risk being mired in icy mud, engulfed by dust storms and snowfalls, vanishing into pits of quicksand, or simply starving to death in a mountain pass. Yet Ri Tai and his foot soldiers, who haven’t been paid in a year and are no less hungry than the criminals they chase, pursue the hunters indefatigably, confiscating pelts and collecting fines. A reporter from Beijing (Lei Zhang) stands in for the urban viewer, tagging along on a days-long patrol; gawked at by village children, he is made to eat raw rabbit and likewise risks his life in search of Ri Tai’s story. Like Feng Xiaoning’s little-seen Gada Meilin (recently made available in the U.S. on DVD), Mountain Patrol is a scrappy little action movie about a true-life eco-warrior from China’s rebellious outlying provinces, but it splits the difference between arthouse think piece and tough-guy grit. The camera loves Ri Tai’s flowing hair and studly, weathered mien, and he’s given to walking away dramatically after an epochal statement. (“Bastards!” he sneers, in a moment of bald cliché, after the patrol discovers a field of skinned carcasses picked by vultures.) Just the same, the movie makes its points about the defilement of Tibet and the need for a unified resistance; hope lies with its people. As summer movie madness descends, viewers could do far worse than this band-of-brothers yarn, which mixes environmental awareness and spiritual mindfulness with its chase scenes through grand scenery. (At one point, the patrol doffs its pants and fords a frigid, slushy stream in boxer briefs.) Though at times a bit too conventionally hairy-chested for the Penguins crowd, Mountain Patrol is an intriguing export with crossover appeal.