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.