Mountain Patrol (Kekexili) Review
When released in China in 2004, Mountain Patrol, by young director Lu Chuan, was an unlikely contender competing alongside the more obvious popular successes of Wong Har-wai’s 2046 and Benny Chan’s New Police Story, but the film’s rather more traditional themes of human strength against adversity and the dedication to a good cause made the film an unexpected success. Mountain Patrol is set in the Kekexili region of China bordering Tibet - a vast plain of incredible natural beauty, four miles above sea level, but an hostile and dangerous terrain. Based on a true story, it follows the fortunes of a volunteer patrol group, formed in 1993 to protect the Tibetan Antelope from poachers who hunt the animal for its fine delicate wool.
Once estimated at over one million, the number of Tibetan Antelope in the region had been reduced at this time to under 10,000, but although trading in antelope wool was illegal there was no authority in place to enforce the law. After the murder of one of the volunteer patrolmen, Beijing newspaper reporter Gayu goes out to cover the story, following the patrol led by Captain Ritai, a retired army officer. He finds a dedicate group of men enduring terrible conditions and facing great dangers, some of them living in remote outposts of this uninhabited region for over three years. Along the way, the patrol finds mountains of antelope corpses – up to 10,000 are killed each year, the reporter discovers - chase and pick up traders, animal skinners and carriers, but are unable to track down the gunmen they are really looking for.
While they continue their patrol, the men are in a race against time, faced with dwindling supplies in a wild and inhospitable region. Mechanical breakdowns and illnesses can have very serious consequences in such a remote place. Sometimes tough decisions have to be made.
Mountain Patrol is very much a tribute to the bravery and stoicism of a group of men facing tremendous hardships and taking great risks for something they unselfishly believe in, but the film is careful to strike a balance between cinematic drama and real-life exigencies. Certainly there are some scenes of dramatic heroism, which take on a larger-then-life aspect in the context of such overwhelming scenery and locations that seem to call out for grand gestures, but the film tries to keep everything in perspective. Even patrolmen, it is revealed, since they were not an official organisation, would also illegally deal in the trade of antelope hides they had recovered from poachers in order to finance their operations and supplies. Reportedly cut down from a 2 hour 40 minute director’s cut, many scenes were removed to keep the film lean and in proportion, though this also has the consequence of making the latter half of the film – where the groups break up under the pressures and difficulties of the terrain – rather difficult to follow in terms of cause and effect and working out who is who and were exactly they are. This is a fine film nonetheless, demonstrating traditional values of good filmmaking - maintaining a strong structure, telling a compelling story with a clear and meaningful purpose in a unique and remarkable situation - and doing so under undoubtedly difficult conditions.
Mountain Patrol is released in China by Guang Dong Face – the disc is in PAL format and is region free. This edition not longer appears to be available, but thankfully there is a reportedly much better edition with an anamorphic transfer. I have provided YesAsia links to the better edition below.
Contrary to the information on the packing of the Chinese edition, the disc is not 16:9, but non-anamorphic 2:35:1. Colours are fine and the image is quite sharp, but the print is on the darker, high-contrast side. Blacks are impenetrable in outdoor scenes, while indoors, they are murky and purplish. An animated GD Face logo appears throughout, at intervals of about every 5 minutes, rising across the image to the top left of the screen. There are some marks on the print, occasionally long horizontal scratches from some sloppy splicing and colours go off in a few frames. Overall, the image quality is reasonably good for a non-anamorphic transfer and I would score it a 7 were it not for the watermarking logo appearing throughout on this edition, which is obviously very distracting from the viewing experience.
The soundtrack is presented as DTS or Dolby Digital 5.1. It makes a fair bit of use of the surrounds, but this often sounds rather artificial and post-dubbed. Voices are reasonably clear, but echo quite a lot, either through the overdubbing process or through spreading the sound across the speakers.
English subtitles are provided and are clear and free from grammatical errors. They are placed entirely within the black border below the letterboxed image, so zooming the frame is not possible if you need to read subtitles. Chinese subtitles are fixed (burnt-in) on the image for dialogue that takes place in Tibetan. That is frequently the spoken language in the film.
A number of extras are provided on the Chinese edition of the DVD. A Making Of (23:20) contains interviews and shows the filming of a number of scenes, but there are no English subtitles available for this. A Photo Gallery contains only six stills, but there are many more provided within the Making Of. A Making Of 2046 (15:27) is included to advertise the Chinese GDFace edition of 2046. This looks nice, but unfortunately has no English subtitles. A Trailer (1:35) is also included for another recent blockbuster, A World Without Thieves, containing fixed English and Chinese subtitles.
You don’t have to be an animal lover or supporter of the World Wildlife Fund to appreciate the story told here and be impressed at the actions of dedicated group of volunteers. Neither a documentary-like reconstruction, nor a completely fictionalised account Mountain Patrol sits somewhere in between, allowing us to admire the beauty of the Kekexili region and also comprehend the drama of the struggle of the people who live there. The film is perhaps a little on the melodramatic side on occasions and doesn’t really take into account the poverty of the people who have been driven to help the hunters, presenting events mostly from an outsider, journalistic point of view, but this is a powerful and moving film nonetheless. The Chinese Guang Dong Face edition doesn’t really do the beauty of the film justice and should be avoided since there are better editions of the DVD available from the links on this page.
Last updated: 19/04/2018 08:03:56