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Movie Review: Kekexili Mountain Patrol

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What kind of man strips an animal alive and leaves it, bloody, but alive, to an agonizing death? What kind of man leaves the small, new babies sucking at the cold teats of dead mothers?

What happens when part of your cultural heritage is being slaughtered for fuel luxuries for the Western world? Do you just stand by and watch?

In one of the poorest regions of Asia, men predominately from ethnic Tibetan backgrounds formed a mountain patrol. Director and writer Lu Chuan’s Kekexili Mountain Patrol is inspired by the story of these men.

This isn’t a happy story. Perhaps someday Disney will remake it and give it a happy ending just as with the Japanese dog tale, the 1983 Antarctica (Nankyoku Monogatari), which became the more upbeat, Eight Below.

Poachers used the deer-in-the-headlights ploy, whole herds froze as they gunned them down, skinned them — mostly does that were pregnant or had recently given birth.

In the movie, led by an ex-army man Ri Tai (Duo Bujie), the patrol is joined by a photojournalist from Beijing (Zhang Lei) after a poacher kills one of the members.

Lu Chuan chooses to emphasize the desperation of the men — both the patrol volunteers and the local people who serve as skinners. We see vast lands with little vegetation and snow that can wipe out tracks, quicksand that can swallow up a man, and punishing winds. We are not privy to the reasons each man has decided to join the patrol, but for some people, perhaps the movie’s main audience — conservation-minded people everywhere — this isn’t really necessary.

In the 1990s, poachers ruthlessly hunted the endangered chiru or Tibetan antelope, wanting only the fur from the neck. According to an article on China.org.cn, a shahtoosh shawl requires three to five chiru and can sell for $40,000.

A deputy county magistrate of Zhiduo County, Sonam Dorje, began focusing on protecting the chiru in 1992. His regulatory commission was the precursor of the so-called Wild Yak Brigade. Two years later, in a battle with 14 armed poachers, Sonam Dorje was killed. His brother then took up leadership, only to die — either by murder or a suicide.

The Wild Yak Brigade survived on little money, little food, and little government monetary subsidy. When they finally gained financial acclaim on 14 December 2000 (Great Wall Award — the ultimate one co-sponsored by Ford Auto China and Environment and Resource Committee of National People’s Congress), they were ordered to disband on the 20th.

Although due to traffic, I was unable to see the whole movie, so this is not so much a review as a contemplation about this presentation by National Geographic’s World Films, Samuel Goldwyn Films, and Columbia Pictures Film Production Asia. As a story inspired by true events, the movie Kekexili Mountain Patrol stands as a challenge to all people — those from richer nations not to contribute to the plunder of other nations’ natural and endangered wildlife and perhaps to also look in their own backyard. If men so poor and so desperate can strive under such hardships to rescue their endangered fauna, why can’t we? If industries in poor countries can be convinced to change, why can’t we?

In California, you can find a list of state and federally endangered species on the California State website. You can find out by state or even by country what species are threatened. In California, over 155 species have been identified as endangered or threatened.

As we approach Earth Day 2006, perhaps we should all reassess our lives and see if, like Lu Chuan’s character, Ri Tai, we can live and die with a pure heart.

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