A Chinese Adventure Eco-Saga


This 2004 Chinese adventure eco-saga takes on the poaching of the endangered Tibetan antelope, skirting the thornier political questions while staying enthrallingly close to the ground. The sense of fundamental outrage does not evolve into asking who’s slaughtering wildlife, and why—mostly starving peasants, for pelts to sell to Westerners—but instead basks before mountains saturated with unearthly tropospheric light. For better or worse, no film of the last decade, not even Malick’s The New World, has displayed such a ferocious intimacy with extreme landscape. Story-wise, Lu Chuan’s film is a full-on elegy for a band of paramilitary volunteers that in the mid ’90s patrolled the titular highlands encompassing hunks of Tibet, Qinghai Province, and the Xinjiang Uygur Autonomous Region. The duty on the endless frontier is fraught with frustration, ethical muddiness, and butcher-block residue, with the terrain playing both victim and destiny dealer—an encounter with desert quicksand is just as viscerally roiling as it was in the matinee programmers of George Lucas’s childhood. With trailers.