• French filmmaker Jean-Jacques Annaud was chosen to adapt China's best-selling novel into film.

French filmmaker Jean-Jacques Annaud was chosen to adapt China's best-selling novel into film. (Photo : Reuters)

After being turned down by almost every big-name Chinese director including Ang Lee and Zhang Yimou, producers at the state-run Beijing Forbidden City Film Corporation finally found a director who is willing to adapt the popular Chinese novel "Wolf Totem."

The reason why it gets turned down by Chinese directors is primarily their reluctance to work with wolves and what the animals symbolize. But the unspoken reason behind the rejection is speculated to be fear and hesitation because the novel, which sold more than five million copies since it was published in 2004, is a critique of the Chinese civilization's ethnic and environmental problems.

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French filmmaker Jean-Jacques Annaud was approached and offered the project, to which he gladly accepted. An odd choice, for the filmmaker was banned in China for his 1997 movie "Seven Years in Tibet," where China was portrayed as land of ruthless bastards.

Annaud acknowledged that he was surprised when the Chinese producers approached him in his Paris office, saying, "China has changed and we are practical people. We don't know how to do what you do and we need you."

The book, which was considered to be the best-selling contemporary Chinese novel of all time, is about a young man named Chen Zhen, who lived with nomadic herdsmen in Inner Mongolia during the time of Chairman Mao's cultural revolution.

The young man learned about the nomadic culture and became fascinated with wolves. The book depicts the invasion of Han Chinese on the Mongol plains, killing the wolves and destroying the environment in the process. The novel has been translated to 39 languages in 110 countries.

Jo Lusby, managing director of Penguin China, the book's English publisher, said: "There has without question been no one single novel in China with as great of an impact before or since 'Wolf Totem.'"

The movie was shot in Inner Mongolia and has stunning landscape and action scenes with real wolves trained for the occasion.

The movie, which stars Feng Shaofeng, arrived in China on the first day of the Chinese New Year.