Monday, August 28, 2006

[DVD] Mountain Patrol (Kekexili) (2004)

Band of Brothers

Based on a true story in the late 90s, this movie tells the story of a group of Kekexili (an isolated region in the northwestern part of the Tibetan plateau. China's least, and the world's third-least populated region) mountain patrolmen, their bitter long standing feud with Tibetan antelope poachers, who are threatening the animal with extinction because their skin can be sold for a tidy sum.

Told in a semi-documentary style in less than three reel weeks, the story follows a Beijing photo-journalist, Ga Yu (Zhang Lei), in his quest to learn more about the tribal traditions, and to document the work of these brave men in their thankless tasks. Brave because they are toiling in a career out of sheer passion, despite being paid meagre sums by the authorities, or not being paid at all. They're exposed to real life dangers like enemy fire, as well as challenges from nature in terms of the weather, and unfavourable terrain conditions.

Watching this movie can be frustrating, as you see and learn what the patrol goes through, and with what the poachers do to line their pockets. However, what was more frustrating for me, were the various weak decisions made by the patrol leader Ri Tai (Duo Bujie). As a leader, he's effectively charismatic, but does that alone make a good one? His various calls on the treatment of POWs, of simple logistics in vehicles usage, fuel, food, etc, are weak at best, and probably needs constant reminders of the 36th rule of Sun Tze's Art of War, that sometimes retreating is the best strategy.

Story aside, the cinematography is gorgeous, capturing rarely seen (at least for a city dweller) scenes of the wilderness landscape in Tibet - it gives you a sense of feeling extremely small amongst the giants of mountains and vast plains. And you get a lesson or two in their funeral rites (still can't imagine the vultures and belief of releasing the soul from the body) and various folk songs sung in the local language, which I think the subtitles don't do justice to.

It's a ruthless battle between poachers and protectors, of people who play by no rules, and those with limited power to stamp their authority. It makes good character study too on leadership, or the lack thereof.

Code 3 DVD contains no extras, besides the usual scene, audio and subtitle selection, and some unrelated movie trailers.

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