Mountain Patrol: Kekexili
Independent Distribution Partnership
Now Showing at: Cincinnati World Cinema on September 25th and 26th.
Review by: Larry Thomas
American and Asian films have always been kindred spirits in the realm of epic adventure films. The Seven Samurai became The Magnificent Seven. Yojimbo was refitted as Clint Eastwood’s first hit, A Fistful of Dollars. Even John Wayne traveled to Japan to film the historical epic The Barbarian and the Geisha with director John Huston. And, of course, China’s John Woo sparked a whole new style of shoot-em-ups that still sells tickets.
Now comes an epic true story with an ecological bent that is truly breathtaking in its vistas, as well as its heart. Director Lu Chan filmed Mountain Patrol: Kekexili, a 2004 Chinese film, in the actual location of the story in Tibet. In the 1990s, the remote area of Kekexili was the last refuge of the Tibetan Antelope. The species was being decimated even faster than the buffalo on the American frontier. Their pelts were valuable, and poachers proliferated in an effort to score a tidy sum without actually working…much like drug dealers.
The story begins with the arrival of a young journalist from Beijing, eager to interview the leader of the mountain patrol, a former military man named RiTai. He and his recruits are so dedicated to their mission, the animals are referred to as “our antelopes.” The men recount stories of loss of girl friends in the face of the solitary and treacherous nature of their efforts.
When the group encounters a killing field, with hundreds of butchered antelopes, they set out on a relentless pursuit of the poachers, driving themselves and their vehicles until they literally drop in their tracks. Even the journalist, who has accompanied them on this grueling journey, has become equally active and emotional in the cause of the mountain patrol.
A really good film takes the viewer someplace generally not accessible in the course of daily life. Mountain Patrol: Kekexili accomplishes this quite splendidly. In addition to the exquisite widescreen photography in a remote, top-of-the-world location, the film offers terrific performances, a naturalistic score reminiscent in places of Ennio Morricone’s work, and a scene that brings home how man can unexpectedly become a victim of nature. After all, nature owns the planet; man is just a tenant.
It’s worth mentioning that there are a few scenes of animals being killed, but that is, after all, the point of the film. Don’t let such content keep you from seeing this marvelous film from the far side of the world.