*A 2006 U.S. Release*
Based on actual events, Mountain Patrol: Kekexili is a thrilling, old-fashioned adventure which sports a larger-than-life scope, albeit at times without the adequate depth. Set in the Kekexili region, a vast barren expanse atop the Qinghai-Tibetan plateau which happens to be the largest animal reserve in China, the film documents the struggles of volunteer patrolmen who for much of the 90s fought to protect the rare Tibetan antelopes (and their valuable pelts) from poachers. Ga Yu (Lei Zhang), a fresh-faced journalist from Beijing who serves as our guide, arrives in the region early on in the film and witnesses a village in mourning. The reason being that the poachers had recently murdered yet another patrolman on duty. Now their rugged leader, Ri Tai (Bujie Duo), is about to organize what could be their final expedition to catch the enemy.
While the basic set-up of Mountain Patrol is as simple as what one usually comes cross in a big-budget western film, director Lu Chuan (The Missing Gun ) even foregoes any backstory elements, perhaps to keep his film moving as swiftly and leanly as possible. As Ga Yu gets acclimated with the crew and his new surroundings, he gets a better grasp on the situation which often demands compromises. On their way, they come across and capture many who are forced to work for the poachers due to economic hardships. At this point the film, which was inching towards becoming an "actioneer," deepens, even though Chuan largely stays away from politicizing the Tibetan conflict, knowing full well that the film may not have the legs to carry such a weighty issue, not to mention the fact that this is an "official" Chinese production.
It could be said, however, that Mountain Patrol eventually emerges as an elemental, man/nature conflict of the Herzogian variety. (In fact, I am a little surprised that the German filmmaker didnt get to this region first!) Working with DP Cao Yu, Chuan often allows the awe-inspiring images of the overbearing landscape to speak for themselves. And proved by the films most harrowing sequence, this undiscerning terrain is certainly more than capable of defending itself.
*The film was released in U.S. theaters earlier this week.