“Tibetans always point knives toward themselves,” says Ritai (Duobuji), the head of a volunteer organization that hunts poachers in the Kekexili region of China, to a young reporter, Gayu (Leigh Zhang), who’s come to the area to investigate the disappearance of mountain patrolmen. This summation, which Ritai says over dinner as Gayu cuts into a piece of meat, encapsulates the film’s stunning moral ambiguity—with it, director Lu Chuan makes known that he recognizes a people’s struggle to maintain their sense of goodness. This conflict, as Kekexili: Mountain Patrol will reveal, is one that is fraught with hypocrisy and compromise, meaning the story understands how people truthfully negotiate life. Without exaggeration, the film’s visual beauty ranks alongside Werner Herzog’s Lessons of Darkness as one of the most succinct and distressing expressions of landscape in crisis. It is across the Kekexili region’s terrain that Ritai and his patrolmen chase after the seemingly phantom-like poachers that hunt the Himalayan antelope; that we see so little of these creatures not only suggests their decimation but something more deeply profound: the landscape’s own spiritual weakening. Lu is a stunning visual storyteller—so good, in fact, that we could probably do without the attention paid to repetitious plot and dialogue, which offsets the mysticism of the images. Compromised, yes, but still strong, Kekexili: Mountain Patrol works out its idea of man’s moral struggle by reflecting it in the very fabric of world. In the film’s single most shocking moment, Mother Nature protects herself by killing a man—a stunning vision of transcendental harmonizing.
Befitting the film's cinematography, the image on this disc is striking, almost flawless, but what's most surprising is the quality of the sound: the howl of the wind evokes a monster taunting the film's characters-a force as vicious as the butt of enemy guns, the harsh sands of the desert, and the blades of unapologetic knives slicing off antelope skins.
One of the best films of the year is also one of the best looking. This DVD edition honors the film's vibrant aesthetic even if it is sadly without extras.