Review: ‘Heavenly Grassland’

A Chinese boy is briefly exposed to the beauties and hardships of Mongol life in "Heavenly Grassland," a lightly enjoyable blend of widescreen vistas and unexoticized ethnic detail. Easily digestible fare, shot in synch-sound Mongolian will fit easily into film weeks and specialist cable channels.

A Chinese boy is briefly exposed to the beauties and hardships of Mongol life in “Heavenly Grassland,” a lightly enjoyable blend of widescreen vistas and unexoticized ethnic detail. Easily digestible fare, shot in synch-sound Mongolian — still rare in the Mandarin-dominated Mainland industry — will fit easily into film weeks and specialist cable channels.

Carried by cart into the endless grasslands, 10-year-old Tiger seems at first a prisoner of the gruff Shergan (Turmen), who still shares the same yurt with his feisty ex-wife, Baruma (Narenhua, excellent), and younger brother, Tengeli. In fact, Shergan is simply fulfilling a promise to look after the son of a man he met in prison. Initially refusing to talk or eat, Tiger slowly adapts to his new environment and, as Shergan and Baruma make up, the three form a temporary family unit. Subtext of pic is cross-ethnic solidarity, and the Mandarin narration by an adult Tiger gives whole thing a Chinese perspective; but Mongolian helmers Saifu and Mailisi bring a simple realism to the subject that’s less overstated than their historical epic “Genghis Khan” (1998). San Bao’s broad, unsoupy string score is quietly dignified.

Heavenly Grassland

China

Production

A China Film Group Corp., CCTV Movie Channel, Inner Mongolia Film Studio production. Produced by Yang Buting, Han Sanping. Directed by Saifu, Mailisi. Screenplay, Chen Ping.

Crew

Camera (color, widescreen), Geritu; editor, Zhang Jianha; music, San Bao; art director, Liu Xin'gang. Reviewed at Montreal Film Festival (competing), Aug. 31, 2002. Mongolian dialogue, Mandarin narration. Running time: 108 MIN.

With

Narenhua, Ning Cai, Turmen.
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