Saturday, September 12, 2015

Wolf Totem

I mentioned in this week's "Next Week In Tickets" post that I was surprised by some of what was playing instead of other things, and Wolf Totem was high on the list; I presumed that Boston Common would get the Imax re-issue of Mad Max Fury Road the same as Assembly Row did, but instead they got this, and they're probably going to take a bit of a hit at the box office for it: I was the second person in the multiplex's largest theater when I arrived pretty close to the start time, and it didn't exactly fill up as what seemed like a half-hour of previews (both an "indie" block and an "Imax" bock) played. Rough show for a Friday night; there wasn't even anyone manning the concession stand.

I'm grateful that they did open it there, though - I can see Fury Road further up the Orange line this week, but this is a movie that, while it probably look nice on Blu-ray, really demands the big screen and looks terrific in 3D. I was glad to support it playing that way with money, and hope that more people do before Everest takes over the screen Thursday night.

(Plus, it's an early contender for Oscars in at least the foreign-language category. That itself seems kind of unusual, since it would probably be China's representative there, despite being directed by a French guy.)

Wolf Totem

* * * ½ (out of four)
Seen 11 September 2015 in AMC Boston Common #2 (first-run, digital Imax 3D)

I've got a rule of thumb that may not apply to everybody, but which has treated me fairly well: When a foreign, documentary, or otherwise limited-release movie plays on a 3D or Imax screen usually reserved for much more mainstream fare, check it out. Someone felt strongly enough to prioritize the merit of that sort of big-screen experience over putting something closer to a sure thing on that potentially profitable screen, which probably means that it is in some way extraordinary. That got me into Wolf Totem, and it holds true - this movie is not your usual anchor-theater fare, but there are bits you wouldn't want to see any other way.

Based upon the novel by Lu Jiamin (under the pseudonym Jiang Rong), it takes place in 1967, the second year of China's Cultural Revolution. Beijing college student Chen Zhen (Feng Shaofeng) has volunteered to spend two years in Inner Mongolia, teaching the nomads of the plains to read, write, and speak Mandarin. He and fellow student Yang Ke (Shawn Dou Xiao) will also learn about their culture from chief Bilig A'ba (Basen Zhabu), which starts with a healthy respect for the Mongolian Wolves that hunt in the area, as they are not only dangerous, but part of an ecological balance that representatives of the Central government such as Bao Shunghi (Yin Zhusheng) would do well to respect more. Chen becomes fascinated by these creatures, as well as the idea of capturing a cub and raising it so that the animal can be studied more closely.

Arguably one of the most astonishing things about this film is that not only was it made in China, but by one of the state-run film bureaus. In ways both obvious and subtle, it portrays the Chinese government in a fairly negative light - the government official played by Yin Zhusheng is either an arrogant fool who destroys systems he doesn't understand or a cowardly toady for such people, and there are plenty of examples of poor environmental stewardship by that government leaving species and ecosystems devastated , not all forty-five years in the past. Rather than justify, the film lets the audience draw obvious conclusions.

Full review on EFC.

No comments: