Wolf Totem

Shaofeng Feng in Wolf Totem (Photo supplied)
Shaofeng Feng in Wolf Totem (Photo supplied)

What it's about:

While staying with the nomadic herdsmen of Mongolia, a young Chinese student (Shaofeng Feng) develops a fascination with the wolves that roam the plains.

What we thought:

If you read only one sentence in this review let it be this; “Go watch Wolf Totem”.

The Chinese language film, based on the best-selling novel by Lu Jiamin, is a thrilling cinematic experience that will take you on a journey like few other films can.

If cinema is about escaping, exploring and discovering worlds you might never have known even exists, then this film is pure perfection.

Few will ever get the opportunity to visit Inner Mongolia or explore the hidden lives of snow wolves - something Wolf Totem expertly opens the doors to.

The film took nearly three years to complete from start to finish as director Jean-Jacques Annaud wanted real wolves, not CGI, for the project.

Sixteen wolf pups were trained from birth to star in this epic tale that explores the deadly and dangerous relationship between wolf and human.

The film plays off during China's Cultural Revolution when a young urban student is sent to live with Mongolian herders, where he adopts a wolf cub.

Lead actor Shaofeng Feng, who plays the role of Chen Zhen, had such a real relationship with his fellow animal actors that he often ended up with bites and scratches during filming. But it was worth it in the end as the onscreen connection between man and wolf is ultimately what carries the film.

As with any other epic real-life story Wolf Totem has its dark and grim moments that at times are almost unbearable to watch. One such scene involves more than 200 horses and a frozen lake – undoubtedly one of the most unforgettable, but deeply disturbing, scenes in the film.

Another feather in Wolf Totem’s metaphorical cap is that even though it’s a foreign language film the viewer gets so sucked into the story that you hardly even notice you’re reading subtitles as you get transported to a world far-far away.

The stars of the film are indeed the wolf pack who gives deeply moving performances equal to their human co-stars while Inner Mongolia’s desolate grasslands and snowy slopes provide the perfect backdrop for this heartbreakingly beautiful story.

READ NEXT: Our interview with Wolf Totem director, Jean-Jacques Annaud