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Original Title:

China 2004


Chuan Lu

Duo buji
Zhang Lei
Qi Liang
Zhao Xueying

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Kekexili: Mountain Patrol

Story: The region of Kekexili is the hunting ground for poachers, who illegally kill tibetan antelopes. The number of these animals has decreased drastically. Since the government doesn't care about poachers and even if they wanted to deal with them would lack the resources, former soldier Ri Tai (Duo buji) founds the Montain Patrol, an inofficial unit that goes after poachers and tries to protect the life of antelopes.
The Mountain Patrol and the poachers clash over and over again. One day it escalates when one member of the self-appointed protection force gets shot. Reporter Ga Yu (Zhang Lei) from Beijing accompanies the Mountain Patrol on their daily mission, because he wants to find out more about the incident and the reasons for the murder. However, on his travel to Kekexili he has to find out that nature in this special kind of place is not only beautiful, but also very deadly. A desperate fight for survival between the poachers, the Mountain Patrol and nature itself takes place...

Review: Chuan Lu's second movie, his first being "The Missing Gun", is based on a true story. The report of a journalist about the poachers, who are causing that the antelopes in Kekexili will become extinct sooner or later, did actually shake up China's government so that finally laws against these kind of huntings were enforced. Moreover, the area of Kekexili is now a nature preserve. But who were those "heroes" that stood against the poachers without any help of law, protecting the animals?
Chuan Lu doesn't make the common mistake to create a sentimental film derived from this story, but instead captures the events in a very documentary way. He holds onto the true harshness and reality of the happenings, so that "Kekexili" becomes a real viewing experience, which won't be forgotten so soon.

The area of Kekexili is 4600 metres above sea level and ranks on position three of the areas in the world that have the least population. The wonderful mountains and bleak sandy and stony landscape is at the same time breathtakingly beautiful as it is harsh, life-threatening and isolating. Chuan Lu did actually cast resident amateurs to play into the movie, taking them into the life-threatening area along with the whole film crew. He didn't want to make a movie out of the story, but instead wanted to retell the events the way they really took place. He indeed succeeded in doing exactly that, even though as a price to pay the crew had to struggle with storms, coldness, snow and addional bad circumstances. The result is a movie, that is honest and candid, without getting overly sentimental, and is telling an extraordinary story.

The impressive directing and most of all the great shooting of cinematographer Cao Yu is the reason why "Kekexili" is a true feast for the eye. Moreover, the beautiful and dreadful nature has also been perfect material for Chuan Lu to work with. By using lots of wideshots Chuan tells his story with a quite tone and necessary integrity. He does so without diving too much into the characters' inside or personality, which also would have been quite impossible concerning the already long running time of the film. As a character who represents the viewer, the reporter comes into play. He experiences the events in a very neutral way, which gives the film the already mentioned documentary touch.

Ri Tai seems to be the only person who is sketched with a bit of care, however, even his motivation remains in the dark as it is also with the rest of the Mountain Patrol. Why do they hunt the poachers under such harsh circumstances and surroundings? Is it a search for freedom or hope? Or maybe it's only obsession? Chuan Lu deliberatively doesn't give an answer to these questions. Yet, it's without a doubt, that Ri Tai's search definitely has become an obsession that he is willing to risk his and his comrades' lives for. Yet, he isn't the only one thinking that way. The actions of the other patrol members make you understand that every one of them has his own reasons why to take on such a hard task.
The Mountain Patrol isn't portrayed as a group of shining heroes. The scene, in which Ri Tai admits that they are illegally selling confiscated antelope skin on the black market in order to survive themselves, cleary proves that they are not heroes in the widespread meaning of the word. On the other side, the poachers are also not depicted as the ultimate, despicable evil. The old man, who is forced to join the poachers, because he would starve otherwise is only one of the many examples. There is no clear black and white drawing, which makes the movie even more realistic.

Apart from lots of quite scenes and almost meditative landscape shots, "Kekexili" also offers a good amount of dramatic and thrilling elements. Especially towards the end the tension factor comes more into play. Naturally, most of the actions scenes revolve around the protagonists' fight for survival. There are no unnecessary moments that only serve the purpose to build up tension. The authentic and realistically tense atmosphere is more than enough for us to be involved in the movie's events and struggle along with the characters.
Nonetheless, the uncommen sincerity of the depiction of events is also the reason why the movie has to deal with some lengths. Some of the wandering sequences feel a bit monotonous and not every viewer will be able to bear with the many tranquil scenes. Nevertheless, the film tries hard not to be your typical Art-House-cinema experience. By implementing a few little side stories and some chasing scenes the movie tries to please even the "normal" movie-goer. Unfortunately, Chuan Lu doesn't fully succeed in doing so.

The story of "Kekexili" is extraordinary and told with magnificent pictures. The drawing of nature that we get here is a beautiful and life-devoiding one, which will be burnt in the audience's head for quite a while. Thanks to missing overdone sentimentality and a serious documentary style, the story about Kekexili is really touching and told without superfluous additions. The bitter and desperate fight for survival of the protagonists will carry you off and imbues the film with required tension.
You shouldn't expect an entertainment movie. "Kekexili" will lie a little bit too heavy in some viewers' stomach, however, it's very well worth watching the movie. The fascinating story and the pictures will definitely stay in your head for a long time.

(Author: Manfred Selzer)
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