'Wolf Totem' accused of promoting aggression

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"Wolf Totem", the eagerly anticipated film adaptation of the best-selling book, has received mixed reviews over a controversial depiction of wolves that some believe promotes the trait of aggression.

A poster of the film "Wolf Totem." [Baidu file photo]

According to research by Chinese showbiz consultancy EntGroup into the most popular films at the cinema over the Spring Festival holiday, the movie ranked third, raking in over 246 million yuan (38.3 million U.S. dollars) at the box office between Feb. 19 and 23.

The China-France co-production tells the story of Chen Zhen, a young ethnic Han intellectual sent from Beijing to the Inner Mongolian steppes in the late 1960s. It depicts Chen's experiences living with ethnic Mongolian herdsmen, as well as his observations of the wolves on the grasslands and the delicate balance of nature in the area.

Chinese audiences have praised the film's photography of Inner Mongolia's magnificent landscapes and its use of real wolves in shooting.

"I have watched 'Wolf Totem' and spent two hours with the wolves. I am fascinated by them," wrote Lin Shaohua, a famous Chinese translator and professor with the Ocean University of China, on microblogging service Sina Weibo.

"I was touched by the film and really appreciate the painstaking efforts by the director in shooting. The scenario in which the wolves put the horses under siege was so thrilling," read another Weibo entry by Lu Tianming, an author and scriptwriter.

However, the depiction of the wolves' characteristics as inspiring for humans has also triggered discussion.

While some Chinese pointed to the wolves' team work, resilience and endurance as positive characteristics, others argued that the film's depiction of the animals promotes aggression.

A netizen with the screen name "yujiajia" said that "glamorizing the spirit of wolves belittles civilized behavior and justifies military expansion".

"I think it is dangerous to ascribe a nation's previous failure to not being offensive. The promotion of the wolf totem advocates the idea that the nation should always maintain a martial spirit," "kongtoushaonian" wrote.

Other critics claimed that many plots in the film are misleading about historical issues and Mongolian culture.

In an open statement, ethnic Mongolian writer Guo Xuebo, said "Wolf Totem" has "seriously distorted the history, culture and philosophy" of his ethnic group.

Guo said the wolf has never been a totem for ethnic Mongolians. "The wolf, as a sheer animal, is ruthless, bloody, greedy, cruel, selfish and treacherous. [Its nature] has nothing to do with the team work spirit puffed up in the film and the novel," the statement said.

An article published by popular science website Guokr.com also noted that the wolves delineated in the novel are not like those in real life.

"The film is about the trade-off between the wolf spirit and civilization," according to a review by "mengjianwuya" on movie website Mtime.com. "The totem of the wolf is like a flag, which has two sides -- one for nature and one for civilization, and both sides are equal."

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