China | France 2015
Opening October 29, 2015
Directed by: Jean-Jacques Annaud
Writing credits: Alain Godard, Jean-Jacques Annaud, Lu Wie, John Callee
Principle actors: Shoofeng Feng, Shawn Dou, Ankhnyam Ragchaa, Yin Zhusheng, Basen Zhabu, Booyingexige
In 1967, during the second year of the Cultural Revolution in China students Chen Zhen and his friend Yang Ke are sent from Beijing to Inner Mongolia. They will teach the children of the shepherds how to read and write. They report to the head of the clan, Bilig, and begin their work. Soon, Chen Zhen is learning much more from the shepherds than he can teach them. He is overwhelmed by the magnificent landscape and the environmentally perfect interaction between the shepherds and their sheep and the wolves roaming the countryside. Each group respects the other and has learned to survive to the advantage of both. Things change when Beijing sends Director Bao to the area, with the mandate to kill all the young male wolves. Chen Zhen saves one young pup and raises it secretly. This leads to a catastrophe.
Lü Jiamin wrote Wolf Totem (called Der Zorn der Wölfe in Germany) in 2004 under the pseudonym Jiang Rong. This was not a safe time to be criticizing the government, although the Chinese population was of a different opinion, evident from the high book sales: It was China’s most-sold book after Mao’s “Little Red Book.” Three years later times had changed and Lü Jiamin was able to make himself known without being imprisoned (something which he had experienced several times in the past). French director Jean-Jacques Annaud waited almost ten years before undertaking the extremely technically difficult job of filming the book on location in Mongolia, often with ancient equipment. There were 480 technicians. All of the actors come from Inner Mongolia, except for the three main characters, all Han Chinese and stars in their own country. Animal trainer Andrew Simpson visited China three years in advance and stayed for two years raising and training 25 wolves for the film. There were also 200 horses and about a thousand sheep. James Horner, well known-for music in such films as Titanic and Braveheart, composed the music, the fourth time he has worked with director Annaud. Naturally, the photography is amazing and for once, I am not complaining about the 3D, which actually adds to the enjoyment. This was a huge undertaking and the results are amazing, well worth the energy put into the making. Experience Chinese politics, travel through Inner Mongolian landscapes, learn about ancient religious customs, and marvel at the real stars: the wolves. ( )