Mountain Patrol (Kekexili)
Unfolding against the stunning mountainous backdrops of the Qingzang Heights in Tibet’s Kekexili region, this epic drama relates real-life events from a decade ago, when an armed team of Tibetan volunteers attempted to protect the indigenous antelope from being wiped out by Chinese poachers. The latter were seeking to profit from the prized woollen coats of the slaughtered animals, which could be turned into scarves and pelts.
Ga Yu (Zhang Lei) is the Beijing photojournalist who accompanies the patrolmen, led by the taciturn figure of Ri Tai (Duo Bujie), on their mission. Mortal danger comes not just from the rustlers they are pursuing through the wilderness, but also from the treacherous weather conditions and the high-altitude atmosphere. Nor are they allowed to arrest their quarry: their powers enable them merely to stop the thieves and to confiscate their stolen fleeces.
Fusing the man-pitted-against-nature spectacle of John Ford and Werner Herzog, writer-director Lu Chan proves to be an impressively economical storyteller. He mounts some thrilling action sequences such as a barelegged chase across a freezing river and a man drowning in quicksand, while Cao Yu’s cinematography captures plenty of other striking images, including one of a field containing antelope carcasses being feasted on by vultures. And there’s a fascinating moral ambiguity to the characters’ deeds. Ri Tai is prepared to sacrifice his own men’s lives to pursue his quest, while the impoverished Chinese hunters are killing animals in order to ensure their own physical survival. Mountain Patrol is definitely one to savour on the big screen.