This adaptation of the best-selling novel is worth seeing just for a spectacular sequence depicting the wolves chasing a herd of prize horses toward a frozen lake during a blinding snowstorm — which appears to have been shot with minimal computer-generated fakery.
Not quite as compelling is the storyline about a Bejing student (Shaofeng Feng) assigned during the tail end of the Cultural Revolution (1967) to work in Mongolia, where an official (Yin Zhusheng) orders the wolves hunted down and killed to protect the horses. This is despite warnings from an aphorism-dispensing elder (Basen Zhabu) that this will dangerously upset the balance of nature between wolves, sheep, gazelles and humans.
The student rescues a lone wolf cub, hides and raises it, which sounds like this might make a great family movie. But be warned that “Wolf Totem,” featuring one of the final scores by the late great James Horner, is probably too brutal for younger children and more sensitive animal lovers.