Based on Yasushi Inoue’s story of the same name, Zhuangzhuang Tian weaves a tale of a world-weary Chinese general who finds himself and his army regiment marooned in a strange village where the occupying clan seem to have a strange fascination with the wild wolves in the area.
As can be expected from a movie set in ancient China there are many breathtaking sets and locations that seem to explore the different regions of China, from harsh deserts to snow-tipped mountains. The scenery is complimented creatively with fine cinematography that one would expect from Chinese movies.
What the movie makes up for in technique and spectacular sets is, however, lost in the acting in and narrative of the film. The movie suffers from disjointed narrative and the constant chopping and changing of time proved to be difficult to watch. This was not helped by the lack of chemistry between the two main actors. The beautiful Maggie Q plays the unfortunate woman that Jo Odagiri’s general character takes a shine to and, in some unforgiving scenes, rapes. Just how the two then manage to fall in love is anyone’s guess. Both Odagiri and Maggie Q are talented actors but their talent seems to lie with other actors.
Another thing the movie to lacks, apart from chemistry, is the large and spectacular war scenes that would be expected from a movie about a Chinese army general. The movie seems to go for a subdued look at war, telling the story of the reluctant shepherd who becomes a seasoned warrior and general, taking a look more at the strange lustful relationship between the general and Maggie Qs widowed character. This is what the first three quarters of the film seem to be about, with the final quarter being about the mystical bond between the strange village and it neighboring wolf packs.
If you like a different style of cinema with beautiful scenery and a movie that you may have to watch several times to fully understand the storyline then this is the one for you. Its disjointed narrative may be quite off-putting but it is something different from a lot of mainstream cinema and makes for a pleasant change. Do not watch this if you are looking for epic fight scenes in the same style as movies such as Crouching Tiger Hidden Dragon.
Best performance: The wolf cub Jo Odagiri has at the start of the film.
Saddest moment: When the wolf cub dies in the snow.