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China Exclusive: "Wolf Totem" celebrates love for nature on and off screen

GUANGZHOU, Feb. 11 (Xinhua) -- In a country reflecting on its "growth-at-all-costs" economic model, the upcoming film adaption of the Chinese best-selling novel "Wolf Totem" is likely to fuel discussions on the relationship between humans and nature.

The 2004 novel, written by Lyu Jiamin under the pseudonym Jiang Rong, tells the story of Chen Zhen, a young Beijing intellectual sent from Beijing to the alien world of the Inner Mongolian steppes in the late 1960s.

Chen was impressed by the locals' fear and respect for the wolves. Inspired by the animal's courage, independence and willpower, he reared his own wolf cub.

The discord between the nomadic and farming cultures runs throughout the book, and brings into question the way in which new settlers upset the ecological balance by killing the wolves to claim the grasslands.

The book was a huge domestic success, with nearly five million official copies sold. It has been translated into around 40 languages and won the 2007 Man Asian Literary Prize, the Asian equivalent of the Booker Prize.

Oscar-winning French director Jean-Jacques Annaud, 71, said in an interview earlier this week that he was fascinated by the "beautiful story".

"From my perspective, the novel is about love and mutual understanding," he said.

Respect for nature also played a large part in the production process.

"There was great effort put in to protect the environment," Annaud said. "If there was no road, we drove on planks to protect the ground from our vehicles. Sometimes the crew carried equipment on their shoulders."

In addition, many steps were taken to ensure no animals were harmed during filming, said lead actor Feng Shaofeng. "The production team experimented a lot and made very detailed plans."

In one particular scene, Feng recalled, "we wanted a wolf to swim across the river, but it would not cooperate. So the director jumped in the water to try and coax it across: It was a cold day."

Chinese producer Wang Weimin said it took four years to train the three generations of 16 wolves that feature in the film.

All the wolves were given names and they, along with their animal co-stars, are included in the film's credits.

Compared with bears and tigers, which the director has also worked with, wolves, he said, were "more complicated".

The film will be also be released in the Mongolian language, Wang said. "Many ethnic Mongolians only know a little Mandarin. We hope it will be screened on the grassland."

The China-France co-production will hit Chinese cinemas on Feb. 19.

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