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Lu Chuan’s “Kekexili: Mountain Patrol” is that rare thing in China: a film about conservation that manages to avoid sounding like a pious edict from central government. It is also the second feature from a distinctive filmmaker who has already eked himself out a space at the domestic box office, as well as at the awards podium.

Lu Chuan’s first film, “The Missing Gun,” was a surprise hit last year. The quirky tale of a local policeman’s (played by top thesp Jiang Wen) hunt for his lost weapon fired the imagination of a cinema-going public more used to kung-fu dramas and straight-laced love stories.

“Kekexili” is an even bigger departure. Set on the bleak plateau of western China, where Tibet meets Qinghai Province, it is the gritty (true) story of a band of voluntary mountain patrolmen trying to save the endangered Tibetan antelope from poachers. To his credit, Lu avoided the easy answers that environmental films risk offering up; in one scene, for example, his volunteers sell off confiscated antelope furs to make a little money for themselves and their impoverished families.

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“My original script for ‘Kekexili’ ends with a Hollywood style victory: the poachers are killed by the captain of the patrol. But when I was in Kekexili, I found that in fact the captain was killed by the poachers. I deliberated for days and finally decided to go with the reality. I want to tell the truth to the audience, no matter how cruel, bloody, violent and tragic it is.”

Lu Chuan’s route into filmmaking wasn’t exactly traditional either. Most Mainland directors go straight to film school to learn their trade. But Lu’s undergraduate degree was in English (in which he is fluent) and he worked as a foreign-film translator for several years before quitting his job and applying to study screenwriting at Beijing Film

Academy. After graduating with a master’s degree, he worked as an assistant director and screenwriter, “while

waiting for my chance to make a movie.”

The movie he eventually directed, “The Missing Gun,” made him a household name — though it took a lucky connection for the pic to get greenlit. “I asked one of my friends to give Jiang Wen the script. When Jiang read it, he became interested and agreed to play the leading role.”

Lu is currently working on a historical project that could be the next thing he tackles. “It’s about the Sino-Japanese War,” he says.