A land before time

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“Kekexili: Mountain Patrol”

IDP Distributing

Written and directed by Lu Chuan

Starring: Duobuji, Zhang Lei, Qi Liang and Xueying Zhao

Not rated/90 minutes

Opened May 26, 2006

Three-and-a-half out of four stars

Aaron Allen

The Daily Utah Chronicle

Movies have the irresistible ability to transport us to places we’ll probably never go. I suppose there’s a chance we might find ourselves in the Tibetan mountains someday, blinking away the unrelenting wind and cold, but I’m guessing we’d fly that plane to Honolulu instead.

“Kekexili: Mountain Patrol” takes place in a harsh environment that may as well be on another planet for how foreign and desolate it is. The ramshackle homes that climb the mountainside in uppermost Tibet have nary a satellite dish on their roofs-a winning blow for the enduring uniqueness of faraway countries.

Half the pleasure of watching “Mountain Patrol” is simply enjoying the immersion. I swear, the Tower even cranked up the A/C to one notch below glacial-probably out of negligence; but, hey, if it adds to the experience?

The rest of the pleasure comes from the telling of the true-life story about antelope poachers and the determined men out to stop them. A journalist from Beijing (Zhang Lei) brings his camera and his idealism to the remote mountain village, where he meets Ri Tai (Duobuji) and his gang. Ri Tai is a grim Captain Ahab type, obsessively searching for the poachers who gunned down thousands of antelope, along with one of his men.

The journalist joins Ri Tai and his not-so-merry band of wind-whipped troops as they follow the scent of the poachers. The terrain is unforgiving-its blinding snowstorms, empty valleys and gluttonous quicksand pits make a convincing argument that man was not ever meant to dwell there. Ri Tai and his mountain patrol brave the harsh environment?for what purpose? To bring the poachers to justice? That’s certainly their intent, but to do what they do-to walk toward almost certain death-requires a certain mindset: either passion for the animals, or passion for self-torture.

Ri Tai’s obsession leads to some rather inhumane decisions when it comes to the fate of his men. Does he care so much about the fate of the antelope, or is it something else driving him?

Ri Tai is as mysterious as the land he inhabits. “Mountain Patrol” is a fascinating journey full of such mystery.