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Sunday, March 06, 2005

Kekexili: Mountain Patrol

Yesterday I saw Chuan Lu's "Kekexili: Mountain Patrol", and I haven't been able to stop thinking about that movie since then. Normally, I am wary of watching foreign films--especially ones about Tibet--because I find that they are either pretentious, or heavy-handed with their treatment of the subject. I don't watch movies to get lectured, but rather to be entertained. The brilliance of Kekexili, however, was that it could deliver a harsh lecture, while at the same time offer you almost 90 minutes of the most engaging entertainment you will ever see (or, if you're in North America, never see)

Set in the barren mountain ranges of Tibet, Kekexili opens with a confusing, yet gripping sequence showing the brutal execution of a Tibetan man by a group of antelope poachers. Right away, you'll know this isn't some movie about the Dalailama. As the story progresses, we are introduced to our protagonist, a journalist from Beijing, and follow him as he rides shotgun with a team of poorly-equipped, volunteer patrolmen tracking down the poachers. Along the way, the patrolmen discover that the enemey they're chasing is more ruthless than they thought, and the land they're on is even more unforgiving than their human foe.

For a movie like Kekexili, it's not hard to imagine that a lesser director might have made a 3 hour long "epic" with long, monotonous pans of the barren Tibetan landscape to fill up celluloid between boring, drawn-out fight sequences between one-dimensional heroes and villains. Thankfully, Chuan Lu artfully avoids these pitfalls and provides a very tight, 90 minute movie that'll knock you away. Never relegating the awesome beauty of the Tibetan landscape to mere backdrop, Lu constantly remind his viewers of the wickedness of its inhospitality--a young patrolman tells the journalist that a geologist once told him that "in Kekexili, every step you take may be the first one taken by man since the beginning of time"; but before the journalist can appreciate the romance of that revelation, the young man tells him that the geologist went missing and was never found, having likely been killed by quicksand. The characters in the movie are as compelling as the land on which they live, and as the story progresses and their situation appears ever more dire, Lu invites the audience to question the motivation behind each member of the mountain patrol, without being afraid that such questioning will weaken the story-telling.

To say that Kekexili is a tragedy would be doing a huge disservice to the word tragedy. As you watch the movie, you can't help but think that sometimes the battle is so stacked that good men can only do so much. In the end, it is only the epilogue which provides a glimmer of hope that mankind is not hopelessly lost and that good does eventually triumph over evil. But before you put down your popcorn and go give $5 to Greenpeace, take a deep breath because the last image of the movie, a black screen with five simple words "Based on a true story" will hit you like a freightrain train and make you question yourself. Do you think you're an environmentalist just because you ride around in your BMX and stick "I'm a gas-guzzling moron" bumperstickers on Escalades? Watch this movie, and think again.

Your Favorite Jerk


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