“Mountain Patrol: Kekexili” premiers at The Smith

If your image of Tibet is one of pacifist monks and droning prayer, here’s a thrilling action-film antidote. Set on the imposingly beautiful Tibetan plateau, “Mountain Patrol: Kekexili” feels both exotic and familiar — exotic in its astonishing landscapes and as familiar as an American Western with its stoic characters and elemental sense of adventure. It premieres in the Finger Lakes at the Smith Opera House on Friday.Ruthless poachers with high-powered rifles and jeeps are exterminating herds of Tibetan antelope for their rare and precious wool, scattering the carcasses for the vultures. The species is on the edge of extinction, and its only protection is a band of paramilitary irregulars without enough money, manpower or firepower to combat the hunters effectively.The environment is hostile, with thin air, pitiless sun, deadly quicksand and lethal ice storms. Yet the men fight on. The mountain patrol’s Ahab-like leader (Duo Bujie) is a tough, charismatic ex-Army captain who needs troops and a mission — even a suicidal one — to maintain his sense of purpose.Their story is told by a Beijing photojournalist (Zhang Lei) who covers the story of the patrol on a casualty-strewn campaign against their pragmatic, pitiless enemies. The deeper they voyage into the desolate moonscape of the Kekexili region, the more elusive their righteous cause becomes. They’re not empowered to arrest the poachers, just authorized to confiscate the antelope pelts, and those are the only items of value they have to barter for fuel and supplies. In the end, their selfless protective operation becomes a tragic mirror image of the outlaws’ depredations.Although the film’s preservationist message is inescapable, “Mountain Patrol” shouldn’t be viewed as another piece of eco-propaganda. It’s a depiction of life in an inhospitable and unforgiving part of the world, almost a travelogue of hardship. In the thin air, a foot race can do lethal damage to pulmonary systems.Some of the film’s images — the starving men eating raw rabbit, parched landscapes littered with antelope carcasses or the weather-worn faces of men who have known little physical comfort — are strange and shocking, but, in sum, they contribute to a work of stark, primal power.In this place where the land meets the sky, just making it from one day to the next can constitute the highest of dramas.The Smith Opera House screens this epic story of white-knuckle tension in a setting of harsh, unearthly beauty November 10-14 at 7 p.m., 2 p.m. on Sunday. In Tibetan and Mandarin with English subtitles, this film is unrated and has a running time of 90 minutes. Tickets are $5 general admission and $3 for students and senior citizens. Call 315-781-LIVE (5483) or toll-free 866-355-LIVE (5483) for details or to order tickets. Tickets may also be purchased on-line at www.TheSmith.org.The Smith Opera House is located at 82 Seneca Street in Geneva. The Smith is supported, in part, with public funds from the New York State Council on the Arts, the City of Geneva, the Town of Geneva and by contributions from individual supporters.

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