Posted in Spring Film Festival: Movie Reviews

The Wolf Totem Teaches Not Entertains

by Andrea Montalban


It’s cute, it’s cuddly and oh so fluffy well at least that’s how Wolf Totem seemed at first, until you get to the part where a mass killing occurs, suicides happen, people go crazy and it’s not just another Asian film after all (or maybe that’s proof that it is proudly Asian?). But don’t let the cute and gruesome distract you from this story’s message, which you may have missed if you fell asleep from the lulling opening credits. Well I won’t blame you because I also yawned while waiting for the movie to start.

Wow I’m a confusing reviewer! And you’re probably all like “So it gets cookies for mixing fluff with gore but it’s boring? How the heck did that happen?”, forgive me but that’s Wolf Totem,– a story  that took place in China when student Chen Zhen volunteered to assist shepherds in inner Mongolia but later learned about the relationship between men and wolves as two different species trying to survive in a single environment – in a nutshell for me. Now if you want a longer synopsis and other details about the film you can Google it and learn how it’s from a semi-autobiography novel, directed by Jean-Jacques Annau, and so on. On with the review!

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Clearly, from the pictures from the film, the cinematography is a winning hundred over a hundred. China’s beautiful plains and hills were featured in almost every shot or transition, even the sky shot (which looked really realistic) during the storm was superb. The establishing shots will all amaze you, however visually astounding scenery displayed over and over can be boring, viewers wish for a plot development and unfortunately, the scenery no matter how breath-taking could not make up for the movie’s lack thereof. Still, aside from the scenery the movie is also a pleasure to other senses with the great musical accompaniment in corresponding scenes; the joyful opening for the positive outlook Chen Zhen has in the start of his journey, the heart throbbing drums for the storm and the movie’s climax, and the sorrowful strings for the lives, both human and animal, that were sacrificed. Personally my ‘wow’ scene and the one that put my hundred to the cinematography is the frozen horse scene, it’s truly a wonder how the scene looked so grotesque and realistic you would want to research if that’s how a horse would look like if they died in the arctic waters, also the expressions of the horses, wide eyes, open mouth as if asking for mercy. It’s horrific but the creators surely put the desperation felt by the animals and those who cared for them into the screen and into the viewers.

A glimpse of the horse scene in ‘Wolf Totem’

Another thing that made this film amazing is the acting of the animals. Kudos to the trainers, staff and actors who worked patiently with them. Kudos most of all to the wolves and special effects that made this film amazing. You guys were an animal on cam!


     Now let us go to the plot, as I have mentioned earlier there is very little movement in the story. The hero stays in the village, learns about wolves, hero ends up being a burden, hero leaves and kidnapped cub is freed. As the movie ended all there was is frustration.

It was boring. Sure, the old culture of some of the Chinese was depicted in the scenes where they have to sacrifice wolf cubs in order to maintain balance, but there was never really an answer with the ending, there was not solution. Except that the wolves will suffer more. The end.

The film was like a documentary from Animal Planet and History Channel, which definitely do not hold people’s interest for more than thirty minutes, Wolf Totem lasted for two hours. It is a film for people with a passion for films that do not entertain well but teaches a lot.

DISCLAIMER: I do not own Google, Animal Planet, History Channel, and I only used pictures from the movie as part of this review.


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