October 12, 2005

Hell / Mountain Patrol: Kekexili

Reviewed by Martin Tsai at the 24th Vancouver International Film Festival

Following Tom Tykwer’s Heaven, Hell is the second installment of a Dante-inspired trilogy planned by the late director Krzysztof Kieslowski and his frequent screenwriter Krzysztof Piesiewicz. On the heels of his Oscar-winning debut No Man’s Land, Danis Tanovic attempts this ambitious, star-studded French-language baloney about lifelong scars from familial dysfunction. Hell encompasses the lives of three sisters (Emmanuelle Béart, Karin Viard, Marie Gillain) who have drifted apart and are similarly trapped in unhealthy relationships after a traumatic episode in their childhood left their mother (Carole Bouquet) in a wheelchair and their father (Miki Manojlovic) in prison. With its half-baked philosophizing, the film is nearly as pretentious and snooze-inducing as Heaven. But Hell is the more disappointing of the two, as this kind of faux-Kieslowski crap is to be expected from Tykwer (i.e. Winter Sleepers, The Princess and the Warrior) but not from Tanovic.

The Missing Gun director Chuan Lu conversely avoids the sophomore jinx with the captivating and harrowing Mountain Patrol: Kekexili. Based on a true story, the film follows an investigative reporter (Zhang Lei) to Tibet on assignment to cover the story of mountain patrolmen mercilessly executed by antelope poachers. Lacking state funding and manpower, the patrolmen must risk their lives in order to battle dangerous outlaws and survive the harsh weather. As the pursuit drags on, their predicament becomes increasingly dire. One of the more remarkable regional productions from Columbia Pictures, the film has the accessibility of a studio product. Its Scope photography of the austere Tibetan skies and mountains is breathtaking. But even with its somewhat slick façade, Kekexili builds to a powerful climax unmatched by faux socio-politico thrillers like The Constant Gardener.

© Copyright 2005 Martin Tsai. All rights reserved.