Y'KNOW HOW THE TRUTH knocks the wind out of you sometimes? Happens especially with movies. You're watching, say, Boys Don't Cry, and in the end when everybody's shot to pieces and laying in their own dried blood you're like, "People really do this. People really do fucked-up, evil shit like this." Chuan Lu's new film, Mountain Patrol: Kekexili is exactly that kind of harsh jab of reality; if you walk away from it feeling at all lighthearted, you better go to your doctor and tell him your soul is fucked.
Set in 1996, Mountain Patrol tells the true story of volunteer patrolmen who watch over the plateau land of Kekexili on the China/Tibet border and struggle to keep the endangered Tibetan antelope safe from poachers.
After one of their own is captured and executed, a Beijing photojournalist (played with idealistic verve by Zhang Lei) is sent to get the story, and off into the wilds they go.
What results is a beautifully shot, agonizingly brutal journey through the frozen wastelands. Chuan Lu lets the scenery roll out on its own, taking long, slow pans across desolate, sepia-yellow flatlands, and up into the cold, bright skies, where in the distance snow-capped mountains sit like great sleeping dinosaurs.
Along the way we run into blizzards, quicksand, and poachers who don't think twice about snuffing you out and leaving your poor dead shell for the buzzards—and the fucking buzzards, omnipresent, circling, reminding us that we're just meat like anything else, and that at the end of the day, the scavengers will gladly pick us clean.
So if you can make it through the hard smacks, this is a damn fine movie. And really, sometimes we need to have the wind knocked out of us to remember what we are and how fleeting (and important) life is and—more specifically—that there are people whose lives are a whole lot different than ours, people out on the edge of the world, two steps away from the buzzards.