Kekexili: Mountain Patrol

Kekexili: Mountain Patrol


Reviewed by: Angus Wolfe Murray

The English title, Mountain Patrol, gives no indication of what lies beneath. Why not call it The Poacher Hunters, or something equally banal?

Kekexili is a remarkable acievement. It is based on true events, which, once examined, stretch credulity to the limit. It was filmed on the Qinghai Tibetan plateau, which is so high breathing becomes difficult, heads ache and noses bleed, in freezing conditions that exposed the cast and crew to barely tolerable hardship. The making of the film and writer/director Lu Chuan's contribution can be seen as a feat of Olympian endevour.

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Just because it was difficult to shoot does not make this, or any other film - Fitzcarraldo, for instance - especially memorable. Kekexili happens to be a masterpiece.

Once it was discovered that the skins of Tibetan antelope make fabulous shahtoosh scarves poachers began a systematic slaughter of the animals. In the early Nineties local Tibetans, led by an ex-soldier Ri Tai (Duo Bujie), formed a volunteer intervention force to stop the killings across an area of some 40,000 miles of wilderness.

Coinciding with the arrival of Ga Yu (Zhang Lei), a young journalist from Beijing, one of Ri Tai's patrolmen is murdered on the mountain. After his "burial" - the body is prepared by priests before being hacked up and left for the vultures to pick clean - Ri Tai gathers his men and, taking Ga Yu, drives into the mountains to search for the poachers.

The expedition encounters every kind of difficulty, from blizzards, breakdowns, ambush, quick sands, lack of food and fuel, intense cold and being stuck in mushed ice on a frozen river. They come upon the carcasses of more than 500 antelopes, as well as some of the poachers - skinners rather than shooters ("They don't use these small calibre rifles," Ri Tai tells Ga Yu. "They use machine guns").

This is a tough film in every respect. No quarter is given on either side. The harsh elements are matched by extraordinary endurance by these men. Ri Tai's dedication to the hunting down of the killers goes beyond the rational. And for what? For animals.

The heart explodes. Occasionally a film can do this. The heart explodes and words fail. It is not only the magnificence of the cinematography, the commitment of the actors (the majority of whom had never been in front of a camera) and the intensity of this true story that ennobles Kekexili. It is the meaning of courage.

Reviewed on: 28 Sep 2006
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True story of poacher hunters in the mountains of Tibet.
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Director: Lu Chuan

Writer: Lu Chuan

Starring: Duo Bujie, Zhang Lei, Qi Liang, Zhao Xueying, Ma Zhanlin

Year: 2004

Runtime: 85 minutes

BBFC: 15 - Age Restricted

Country: China


Sundance 2005

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