Nicely shot in the endless, rolling grasslands of Inner Mongolia and the deserts just south, Feng Xiaoning’s “Gada Meilin” is a notch above most exotic Chinese dramas devoted to minority ethnic heroes. Though Feng still shows few signs of being any more than a journeyman helmer, pic is further evidence, after “Purple Sunset,” that he’s getting better with every movie. Pic opened in Beijing in July to underwhelming biz, but could have minimal offshore legs among curious Asiaphiles in film weeks.
After wrapping his “war & peace” trilogy with “Sunset,” film is the second in a “life & environment” trilogy that Feng begun back in 1989 with “The Ozone Layer Vanishes.” Gada, gruffly played by Mongolian thesp Ebusi, led an uprising by herdsmen in the late ’20s to prevent the sale of chunks of the Horqin grasslands to Japanese interests, before being killed at age 39 in 1931. Characters are basically stereotypes, though played with a touch more veracity than usual and, despite not being in widescreen, pic still has a reasonable sweep, aided by San Bao’s propulsive-melancholy score. “Meilin” is an honorary Mongolian title meaning head warrior.