HONG KONG – Jean-Jacques Annaud’s Wolf Totem will feature Chinese stars Feng Shaofeng and Shawn Dou Xiao in its leading roles.
The announcement from Edko Films, which will be shopping the project at Cannes, confirms speculation of Feng’s involvement in the project, after the Tai Chi 0 and Painted Skin: Resurrection star revealed to the Chinese press two months ago plans to collaborate with a French filmmaker this year.
In an adaptation of an award-winning semi-autobiographical novel by mainland Chinese writer Jiang Rong, Feng is expected to play a student being sent down to work in the Inner Mongolian Steppes during the Cultural Revolution, and whose new way of life is thrown into chaos as an apparatchik orders the killing of all wolves living in the area.
Dou sprung to fame in Zhang Yimou’s 2010 film Under the Hawthorn Tree, in which he plays a land prospector who falls in love with a high-school student arriving to work in a village during the Cultural Revolution.
Annaud first became involved in Wolf Totem in 2009 when he inked a deal with Beijing Forbidden City Pictures’ CEO Zhang Qiang, who has since moved on to become vice-president of China Film Group and is also a backer of the project. Bill Kong, Edko Films’ CEO, joined the project in 2010.
Wolf Totem secured official co-production status last month with a signed deal at the Beijing Film Market last month. The $38 million project is slated to begin shooting this month and is expected to wrap by the end of the year, with plans for a release in 2014. Edko is handling U.S., Latin American and Asian rights for the film with Wild Bunch attending to European territories.
While marking the first time a prominent foreign filmmaker is to helm a Chinese production, Wolf Totem also represents a change of fortunes in the country for Annaud, who was once branded persona non grata by the Chinese authorities for his film Seven Years in Tibet, in which Chinese military officers were pictured as ruthless intruders taking control of the southwestern region in 1950.
Meanwhile, Edko’s Cannes slate also includes Firestorm, an action thriller about a police inspector (Andy Lau Tak-wah) resorting to extreme means to nab a criminal gang. Directed by Alan Yuen, the film will also star Gordon Lam Ka-tung and Hu Jun. The film is currently in post-production, and a promotional reel will be available for buyers at Cannes.