Mountain Patrol (Chinese: 可可西里; pinyin: Kěkěxīlǐ) (ཨ་ཆེན་གངས་རྒྱལ། in Tibetan) is a 2004 film by Chinese director Lu Chuan (陆川) that depicts the struggle between vigilante rangers and bands of poachers in the remote Tibetan region of Kekexili (Hoh Xil). It was inspired by the documentary Balance by Peng Hui.
Despite its realistic, detached style, the film evokes the dramatic Western genre in several ways. This includes the portrayal of a masculine, harsh way of life and culture of honor at the frontier of civilization; but also the depiction of a rugged, majestic landscape (captured to great effect by cinematographer Cao Yu) that becomes a star of the film.
This characterization is made explicit when the characters profess their love for their homeland, whose very name evokes “beautiful mountains, beautiful maidens” to them.
The film opens with the summary execution of a patrol member by poachers and then follows, in quasi-documentary style, reporter Ga Yu (played by Zhang Lei (张磊)) who is sent from Beijing to investigate. In Kekexili he meets Ritai (played by Tibetan actor Tobgyal, or Duo Bujie (多布杰) in Mandarin) at the Sky burial of the deceased patrol member.
Ritai is the leader of the vigilantes who, despite poverty and the lack of any government support, roam the land to protect the endangered Tibetan antelope from extinction. Admitted into the patrol, Ga becomes a sort of embedded journalist in the hunt for the poachers across Kekexili.
The patrol team hunts down a family of poachers and learns from them the whereabouts of their gunman and leader. But the long journey means they can no longer afford to follow on with the entire team and captured poachers. They release the poachers and send one of the cars, driven by Liu Dong (played by Qi Liang (亓亮)), back with the injured and sick team members to the hospital.
He did not have sufficient funds for the medical fee and Ritai tells him to sell some antelope skins to raise the money. Ga questioned the sales of antelope skins and learns from Ritai that they have received no funds from the government for at least a year.
The two remaining vehicles continue the search but one of them breaks down. Ritai ask them to wait for the other car to return and pick them up, but severe weather forces them to trek their way home. Liu Dong, traveling alone on the way back to join Ritai with his vehicle fully stocked with supplies, is swallowed by dry quicksand when his vehicle gets stuck.
Ritai and Ga finally finds the gunman and leader. But, outnumbered and outgunned, Ritai is killed by the poacher. Ga is free to go as he is not a patrol member. Ritai’s body is brought back home for a Sky burial.
Subtitles at the end of the movie states that Ga, stunned by the atrocities, writes a stunning report in Beijing which alerted the government of the problems in Kekexili and banned the poaching of Tibetan antelopes. Foreign countries also banned the import of antelope skins. Antelope numbers grow back to 30,000 at the time of the movie’s release.
Mountain Patrol is a film inspired by people’s remarkable mission surrounding the illegal Tibetan antelope poaching in the region of Kekexili, the largest animal reserve in China. The story is brought to the screen with great detail by director Lu Chuan.
Set against the exquisite backdrop of the Qinghai-Tibetan Plateau, Ga Yu (Zhang Lei), a journalist from Beijing, China, is determined to uncover the facts behind the disappearance of the Kekexili Mountain Patrol, the brave local Tibetans who face death and starvation to save the endangered antelope herds from a band of ruthless hunters.
USA: Samuel Goldwyn Films
Cast: Duo Bujie, Zhang Lei, Qi Liang, Zhao Xueying, Ma Zhanlin
Director: Lu Chuan
Countries: China / Hong Kong
Languages: Mandarin / Tibetan (English subtitles)
USA: 90 mins
USA Release Date: 14 April 2006 (Limited Release)