review

Wolf Totem: An extraordinary tale of Man vs. Beast

Maybe everyone tried or encountered once in their life to get or adopt a dog as a companion, pet or for whatever reason but what if instead of a typical dog, a man decided to adopt and foster a wolf cub. Did it work? And for what reason such a man will do it?

The tale of “Wolf Totem” takes us to a wonderful landscape of the Mongolia in the vast grassland in the Northern China, where a student named Chen Zhen travels from the city of Beijing during the Cultural Revolution of 1969 to be teach how to shepherd and teaches the children there on how to read and write in return. But instead, he learns more than being a shepherd, he learns about the distinction of the shepherd and the bond they share with the wolves, a tie that is endangered by many burdens and by the government they belong in.

During Chen Zhen stays he learned how the balance of nature works, how the circle of life revolving and affecting each other, and how respect to every living individual works even it is a human or a wolf. But this all change when the government apparatchiks threatened this fragile balance starting by getting as much gazelles they can carry until nothing was left to the wolves up until to the point of getting rid off the cubs and pushes the wolves into near extinction, but Chen Zhen is a man with a different perspective of things and for no enough reason instead of joining the others killing baby wolves he tried to keep it and treated as his own.

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Wolf Totem delivers a very dramatic approach to its viewers, how we humans have a very deep connection to our pet dogs that we treated as a man’s best friend, but in Chen Zhen case he has a wolf. This fragile connection between Chen Zhen and the wolf was the highlight of the film, on how Chen Zhen breaks the order from the government to kill wolves and defending to the people that taking care of his wolf will do no harm to them.

I must say that this connection between Chen Zhen and his wolf is a bit lacking. Personally, I demand that there will be more scene between them justifying this special connection between the man and beast. One more thing that is evidently lacking in the film —romance. Yes, the romance part was there, but it was only shown in the latter part of the film

In terms of cinematography, a place where the film and the production excelled a lot, I can say that the production did a really great job capturing the scenes of the landscape of the Mongolian grassland. The drone shot where they capture the gazelles and wolves chase was very cinematic and feel very real. I must also give credit to the trainers of the wolves, who are the main stars of the film. Also, kudos to the editor for giving the audience a nice color grading all throughout the film and for giving it a real-life 3D-effect that is very pleasing to the eye.

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Chen Zhen walks with his “Little Wolf”

On the other side, the film teaches us lessons on how we must perceive life. One message contained here is a prevailing one, emphasizing the idea that the only way to survive is to live together. It’s an idea we could still stand to think about. Another is the lesson that we are hearing a lot that is when you love someone, you will set them free because you are too brave to give that person his/her will to live like Zhen gave to his wolf, a will to be free and choose its own path.

Overall, the film delivers a great balance between the screenplay and the camerawork. The actors did a great job in giving justice to their character, again to the wolves (hope they were given much more exposure) and their trainers, and of course to the Director who immortalized this story. Hope that there will be more movies like this that will be produced in the future and be screened here in our country.

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