Poachers, beware: The Mountain Patrol is watching you! After hunters illegally reduce southwest China’s antelope population to dangerously low levels, local farmers and students band together to keep the human predators off their land. The group attracts the attention of a Beijing journalist (Lei), who joins the posse to write a story about their leader (Duobuji). Then, a militia member is executed, and protecting animals is put on the back burner. Neither dangerous sand pits nor harsh frozen terrain can sway these men from avenging their comrade’s death. Welcome to vigilantism, Tibetan-style.
Based on a true story about gun-toting villagers in the mid-’90s, the movie follows these ad hoc lawmen as they fight the elements to catch the pelt-stealing killer. (The real patrol disbanded before a film franchise could be developed, thus robbing audiences of the chance to see, say, Mountain Patrol: Guangdong.) In director Lu Chuan’s hands, the story feels less like a docudrama than a Western, in which rustlers go after Asian pronghorns instead of Texas longhorns and the sheriff rides around in a rust-bucket Jeep. What’s thrilling is how Lu crafts a compelling action movie through a mixture of regional neorealism and David Lean--epic vistas, instead of Hollywood affectations. Foreign and yet somehow familiar, Mountain Patrol manages to work both your inner art-house elitist and your shoot-’em-up fanatic into a minor tizzy. (Opens Fri; click here for venues.)—David Fear