Kekexili: Mountain Patrol

Director: Lu Chuan
Screenwriters: Lu Chuan

Institute History

  • 2005 Sundance Film Festival


In the desolate, mountainous region of western China called Kekexili, the only inhabitants who seem suited to the bitter cold are the indigenous antelope. But in the mid-'90s, the once-thriving herds faced extinction at the hands of poachers who slaughtered the animals, hundreds at a time, for their pelts. The provincial government responded by forming a legendary band of local Tibetan men to patrol the mountains; they were ill equipped, unpaid, and sent out to stop poachers armed with machine guns. This true story is the basis for Lu Chuan's truly astonishing second feature.

A Beijing journalist, dispatched to report on the murder of a volunteer, gains the trust of the patrol's stalwart captain, Ratai, and embarks with the team on a routine patrol that proves to be anything but routine. Tracking the poachers for weeks, losing men and equipment, and facing dwindling supplies, the relentless Ratai drives his patrol to the brink of ruin.

In search of the deeper truths, Lu Chuan creates an aesthetic so powerful and stark, so aware of human impotence, that he actually transcends the obvious moral dichotomy between poachers and patrolmen and evokes a vastly more profound sense of struggle. Employing a beautifully spare structure (imposed in part by unforgiving shooting conditions), Lu shows only the most essential moments, transforming a simple story into a breathtaking, visceral meditation on survival.

— John Nein

Screening Details


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