French filmmaker Jean-Jacques Annaud (The Lover, Seven Years In Tibet) has been brought on board to direct $30m Chinese-language drama Wolf Totem, which is being co-produced by Hong Kong’s Bill Kong and Beijing-based Forbidden City Film Co.

The film is based on a novel written by Jiang Rong in 2004 inspired by the author’s 11 years of life on the grasslands. It follows a Chinese student who trains a wolf in Inner Mongolia in the 1970s, exploring the relationship between humans and animals. The award-winning book has been translated into 30 languages and published in 110 counties.

The project will be the first Chinese-invested film to be directed by a foreign filmmaker. Forbidden City president Zhang Qiang said the company acquired the film adaptation rights in 2005 and spent four years finding a suitable filmmaker. 

Annaud, who has trained bears and tigers in two of his previous animal-centered films, The Bear (1988) and Two Brothers (2004), said at a Beijing press conference that he would spend at least 18 months raising and training wolves before shooting. 

In addition to Forbidden City and Kong’s Edko Films, investors also include Beijing Performance Arts Group, cinema circuit Beijing New Film Association, Shenzhen Film Studio and Chengdu Media Group.