'Wolf Totem' is an adaptation of the eponymous bestselling novel by Jiang Rong (pseudonym), published in 2004. The book tells the story of a young student, Chen Zhen, who is sent away from Beijing to work as a shepherd in Inner Mongolia, where he meets wild wolves. The movie follows the exact story and the filming team, led by French director Jean Jacques Annaud, decided they could make it seem real only if they raised and trained their own wolves in the Inner-Mongolian environment in China.
The original book has been translated into more than 30 languages, has sold more than 20 million copies (official and pirated versions) and become the second most read book in China, after the "Little Red Book" of Chairman Mao. Its author won the inaugural Man Asian Literary Prize in 2007.
French director Jean Jacques Annaud started to work on the 3D movie "Wolf Totem" five years ago, after being invited to collaborate on the project by the Chinese production company. Ironically, the movie was produced in collaboration with the state-backed China Film Group, which also holds the distribution rights in China, where Annaud's 1997 movie "Seven Years in Tibet", starring Brad Pitt was, of course, banned.
The Wall Street Journal reports:
Making a film that puts a group of real wolves among human beings was deemed too difficult by many when the film project was launched 10 years ago, said Zhang Qiang, vice president of state-run China Film Group, which is in charge of the film's production and distribution in China.
"I talked to almost all the prominent Chinese directors, but I got the same reply: that they loved the novel but could not make it a movie," he said.
To make it happen, after rejecting the idea of heavily relying on computer-generated imagery, the crew raised a dozen newborn baby wolves from a local zoo in China's northern city of Harbin that were then trained for the movie for more than four years.
The film was shot in Inner Mongolia for over a year, where the crew endured mosquito attacks and capricious weather. "Now the 13 Mongolian wolves are all happily living in Canada, because their trainers were Canadians so they can only understand English now," said Mr. Zhang.
The filming took place in Inner Mongolia near the town of Wulugai, with some footage from Beijing, and involved 420 Chinese and 7 French crew-members.
The production will feature Chinese stars Feng Shaofeng and Shawn Dou Xiao in its leading roles and is slated to be released in the Mainland at the end of December 2014 and in early 2015 in the rest of the world.
According to Variety Magazine, China’s e-commerce giant Alibaba launched Yu Le Bao, a crowdfunding site for entertainment ventures this March and “Wolf Totem” was one of its first projects, along with “Tiny Times 3,” “Tiny Times 4,”, 3D fantasy “Impossible” and “Mofan Xueyuan,” the world’s first celebrity-themed, large-scale social-networking game in which fans can interact with movie star Fan Bingbing.
As of this month, the Chinese box office raked in a total 10 billion Yuan for the year, with Chinese titles leading the way.
By Andreea Dragut