Wolf Totem: The Film Adaptation

By Cindy M. Carter, published

The Guardian reports that Jean-Jacques Annaud will be directing the film adaptation of the novel Wolf Totem by author Lu Jiamin - better known by his pen name of Jiang Rong. (See full article).

A quote from the Guardian piece:

The Associated Press reported that Annaud would be forced to make an apolitical interpretation of the novel in order to pass Chinese film censorship, with the Beijing Forbidden City Film Company's statement about the project avoiding the book's political messages to describe it as "an environmental protection-themed novel about the relationship between man and nature, man and animal".

This sounds like the real deal, but it does bring back some memories: anyone recall a few years back, when rumours of a Peter Jackson/Weta adaptation of Wolf Totem were flying fast and furious? One imagines that the Jackson version would have been heavy on computer graphics and special effects, while Annaud plans to spend 18 months raising and training the wolves himself.

I'm curious about the screenplay adaptation. Will it be based on the French translation of the novel (Le Totem du loup, by translators Yan Hansheng and Lisa Carducci), or the English translation by Howard Goldblatt, or will they start from scratch and work up a screenplay based on the Chinese novel? Will the film itself have Mongolian dialogue, or Chinese, or both? Not English or French, certainly.

I'm sure we'll be hearing more about this in the months to come...


# 1.   

I'm wondering how they'll make the film without any of the political context.

Chinamatt, August 23, 2009, 3:57a.m.

# 2.   

Not How--, I know how...

But why is a book like this generating so much money, camera-flash and wasted breath?

Canaan Morse, August 24, 2009, 2:16a.m.

# 3.   

@ Canaan

"But why is a book like this generating so much money, camera-flash and wasted breath?"

Maybe because it got reviews like this in the West:

"Depending on how you read it, China's biggest publishing sensation in years, Wolf Totem, is a moving novel of nomads and settlers and their relation with wolves on the Mongolian steppes, a guide to doing business in New China, an ecological handbook, or a piece of military strategy."

Or, to prove that Jo Lusby was not a fool for paying US$100,000 for the rights.

Or, because more people than just my girlfriend cried when the wolf pup died...

For a time, China management circles got into wolves like nobody's business. Read about Hua Wei and wolf-think here.


Bruce Humes
Chinese Books, English Reviews

Bruce, August 24, 2009, 7:40a.m.

# 4.   

And motivational texts for middle-management make superb movies, of course...

Really, once you strip out the dead-weight of the author's didactic digressions, you've got a pretty filmable story with lots of cinematic elements: vast Mongolian plains! Ethnic people in their ethnic costumes! Evil modern businesspeople! Horses! Wolves!

I can see the adaptation being quite good, actually.

The Peter Jackson/Weta film was supposed to be released before the Olympics, but apparently that was all just hype and there was never an actual deal in the first place.

jdmartinsen, August 24, 2009, 8:08a.m.

# 5.   

To be honest, I do agree with Joel.

It WILL make a decent movie. And one reason is this: Unlike the Chinese publisher and the English publisher of the book, the movie director will (wisely) choose to totally ignore aspects of the writing -- like the endless monologues dressed up as dialogues, the over-repetition of various "messages" re: the sagacity of the Mongol way, and so forth -- that sometimes made reading the book a chore.

Mind you, I've read part of the Chinese and 2/3 of Howard Goldblatt's version, and enjoyed both. But the Chinese and the English versions would both have been much more readable if they had been aggressively edited. The reasons for the light edit are different: In China, most editors focus on eliminating typos and political errors. Period. But I get the impression that in the West, translated novels are treated with kid gloves; few if any editors slash large sections of the text, and even fewer would get back to the author and ask for a rewrite of a given section. This tendancy may have been exacerbated by the popularity of the book in China.

I vaguely recall hearing somewhere that Mr. Goldblatt did have permission to edit his translation, i.e., to cut copy, and exercised this perogative. It would be interesting to hear from him on this. But even if he did, it seems to me that there was still a lot of fat in the final version, which indicates the editor was still fairly conservative.

Personally, I think this is why some translated fiction doesn't sell well. Ideas and copy that don't really contribute to a good story -- that would have been cut if written originally in English -- are left largely untouched in the final translated text out of "respect" for the original.

Bruce Humes
Chinese Books, English Reviews

Bruce, August 24, 2009, 10:39a.m.

# 6.   

It will make a good movie. Fighting killer wolves in snowstorms + the sad wolf pup story. Bruce's girlfriend wasn't the only one who cried at the end of the book...

Anna Chen, August 24, 2009, 1:20p.m.

# 7.   

Joel and Bruce are right--the film version will eliminate all those dull sections of the novel that over-explained every detail. Without all that it should make a decent movie (it'll certainly be easier to get through than the book).

Chinamatt, August 27, 2009, 2:58p.m.

# 8.   

Shooting a movie featuring animal actors in China sounds like a very, very bad idea.

If shot in China, I suppose Jean-Jacques Annaud could easily join a growing list of directors who have killed animals on-screen, for the sake of the big and small screen.

It's a distinguished list that includes Gu Changwei, Lu Chuan, Jiang Wen and most recently Gao Xixi. (http://www.beijingtoday.com.cn/?p=7903)

I, for one, completely opposed the idea of shooting a movie featuring wolves in the People's Republic of China, prior to the establishment of SOME kind of animal protection law that would limit the kinds of abuse that will happen on a movie set.

Christopher, August 27, 2009, 4:09p.m.

# 9.   

I keep reading that the little wolf was killed by Chen Zhen in the end. The movie has no such thing happening. In fact, he sees the wolf, waves and calls to it, and it turns and runs away to live another day. So WHY are there comments that the wolf dies???

Adrianne, October 5, 2021, 5:49a.m.


Your email will not be published
Raw HTML will be removed
Try using Markdown:
[link text](http://link-address.com/)
End line with two spaces for a single line break.