Director Lu Chuan brings a piece of recent Tibetan history to life with Kekexili: Mountain Patrol, a haunting, stark, and visually beautiful tale of antelopes, the poachers who slaughter them, and the volunteer patrol who aim to protect the animals. The setting is the picturesque-yet-desolate Kekexili mountain region on the border of China and Tibet -- a harsh and unforgiving location if ever there was one.
Based on actual events that occurred in the mid-1990s, Kekexili introduces us to the story through the eyes of a young reporter named Gayu, who is wide-eyed and idealistic enough to believe he can help the self appointed crew of mountain patrollers to protect the once-thriving and now nearly-extinct population of Tibetan antelope. But the poachers are not only mercilessly cruel towards the dwindling number of antelope; they've recently crossed over into the realm of manslaughter -- which means that for the mountain patrol, it's not just a question of wildlife conservation; it's also about revenge.
But don't mistake Kekexili for some sort of rousing, rah-rah adventure tale. This is a movie as unflinching and candid about the cruelty of nature as it is about the nobility of the human spirit. (Well, in some humans, anyway.) As the mountain patrol treks deeper and deeper into the harsh wasteland of Kekexili, they brave a few accidents, arrest a few suspects, and eventually splinter off into smaller groups when the going gets particularly desperate.
And it seems that their quarry, the ever-crafty poachers, are always one or two steps ahead.
Kekexili: Mountain Patrol works in a "quest movie" sort of way, in that we're forever moving forward to another inhospitable (yet seriously beautiful) location, each one boasting new and very dangerous threats. (Watch out for quicksand!) But while you're enjoying that A to B to C adventure on a surface level, the underlying message becomes pretty clear: These men are actually willing to risk their lives to protect the fate of their beloved antelope.
It's a strange, sad, and melancholy story about the love for one's homeland and the lengths some men will go to in an effort to protect one last piece of Mother Nature's handiwork. Heck, you could watch the film without volume or subtitles and still be sucked right in by the sheer loveliness of the landscapes onscreen, but there's an ironic and important lesson tucked within Kekexili, and that's that the sacrifice of a few can yield some well-earned results when all is said and done.
Video: This region-free release from Guang Dong Face features a Widescreen (non-anamorphic) transfer I've got two complaints about the transfer, one minor and one not-so-minor. First off, there's some serious source artifacts tucked within the film's final half-hour. You'll notice burn-like slices and other jarring blemishes, plus (although this pay have been an intentional choice by the director) the night-time scenes are all but completely black and borderline-invisible. But the big complaint comes in the form of a seriously annoying watermark that floats into the top left-hand corner of the screen every 7 to 10 minutes. It's a perpetual distraction, and it's an unforgivable glitch on what should be a gorgeous visual spectacle.
Audio: Choose between Dolby Digital 5.1 or a DTS audio track; either way the dialogue and the omnipresent whoosh of the Tibetan winds will pipe through your speakers in B+ fashion. Optional English subtitles are available, as are Chinese subtitles -- only those ones are not optional.
Extras: Annoyingly, none of the special features come with English subtitles, so I had no idea what I was listening to. But it seems the extras look like this: A 23-minute Making Of Featurette, a 15-minute featurette on Wong Kar Wai's 2046, a photo gallery, and a trailer for A World Without Thieves.
Kekexili: Mountain Patrol is a feast for the eyeballs,a rugged endurance test of an adventure, and a poignant story about man's devotion to nature. Well, some men, anyway.