Before our major retrospective on his career and on the occasion of the re-release of the film in a long restored 4K version, the immense Christophe Gans talks to us about the pact of wolves.
First screened at the Cinéma de la plage during the Cannes Film Festival, The Pact of the Wolves hits theaters this June 10, in a brand new 4K version, supervised by Mr. Gans himself from the original negative. An event: this new copy is of high quality (thanks to the new calibration, the special effects still hold up against all odds) and the film has remained cult.
At the time, The Pact of the Wolves was the pinnacle of the successful French blockbusterwhich rolled on the box office with some 5 million admissions in France, and was exported particularly well across the Atlantic.
So much so that it now enjoys a very good reputation in the United States. With us, however, it was not unanimous. He was criticized for his excesses, his audacity, his ambition and even his lack of historical rigor (yes, that’s stupid). Today, its references to a whole section of Hong Kong cinema are better digested by the general public, while its visual and thematic generosity is still striking. We met the director Christophe Ganswho revealed to us straight away how he inserted his cinephilia into the project, as soon as he wrote it:
“When I launch Le Pacte des loups, I first receive the script from Canal+ WRITE. Canal+ WRITE at the time was directed by a friend of mine who is François Cognard, still a former Starfix. I receive this absolutely wonderful script , I remember reading it in one night. I thought it was brilliant. I had known the case of the Beast of Gévaudan well, for a long time because, when I was a kid, I was interested in legends, in Folklore, things like that.
So I was perfectly informed about what it was and at the same time I saw in it the possibility of making a film on chivalry, which is very largely influenced by wu xia pian, films from Hong Kong and more particularly Shaw Brother films and in particular The Rage of the Tiger which is in fact the seminal film of the Pact of the wolves.
Cloaks, swords and fire
Proof of this is the character of Mani, played by Mark Dacascos, with whom Gans had already toured Crying Freemanand added during rewrites to embody this martial heritage.
“That’s also why in order to be able to do The Pact of the Wolves, I take one of the characters who, in the script, was a practically non-existent character, an Indian suitcase carrier, and I make him the character of Mani , who becomes this kind of Warrior Shaman… So very influenced by my readings of Robert Howard, I tell myself that this is going to be my heroic fantasy character.
But through the character of Mani, it is in fact a whole tradition of chivalry films and in particular of a knight interpreted by an immense actor from Hong Kong who is called Ti Lung [comédien très célèbre pour ses rôles chez Chang Cheh, Chu Yuan et John Woo, ndlr] and that’s really what I’m trying to do.
It’s not kidding
He’s going to be this gorgeous knight sacrificed in the middle of the movie and his buddy is kind of going to take his spirit to take on the bad guys and so the man who takes on the bad guys at the end is kind of a symbiosis between the dead knight and his buddy. It’s literally Chang Cheh to the letter, we’ll tell it like it is.”
Inevitably, when the spectators, for the most part neophytes of Asian cinema, discover the action scenes of the feature film and the twirling staging of Gans, they do not necessarily taste this “pot au feu” cultural. The fight scene between Mani and the hunters, choreographed by the great Philip Kwok, both mocked and admired, becomes a symbol of this rather unprecedented mixture of genres… and now much more widely accepted.
Globalization obliges, aesthetics and ideas from the four corners of the world merge, to the delight of spectators. The Pact of the Wolveslike Matrix in the United States, would he be a precursor of contemporary pop culture? Maybe.
My feet, I put them where I want…
“When we analyze the great Chinese films of chivalry, it’s always this kind of mechanism. Except that I transport them inside French history, so at the time it’s a surprise for people who see that. But at the same time, Pact of the Wolves anticipates a crossbreeding that has now become practically mainstream. At the time, the film was perceived by some people as bizarre, but in fact the film was simply ahead of a inevitable phenomenon, that of pop culture and the globalization of pop culture.
Especially through Japanese comics, for example, which borrows everywhere and from everything. I take a masterpiece of Japanese comics like Berserk, I mean Berserk is both a western story and a story totally soaked in the great myths of samurai and all that. Berserk is a very good example. Bersek is part of the same pot for me as Le Pacte des loups, obviously.”
That’s not how we wear the mask
The film digs as much into wu xia pian as it does from the great western swashbuckling films or French works like Angelica, Marquise of Angelswhich the filmmaker sees as a “distant descendant” from pact of wolves. In 2022, it is impossible to consider it the most American of French films, solely because it benefits from a substantial budget and multiplies the action scenes. A very common point of view at the time.
“It’s a film that is full of influences, obviously Asian and that’s why people at the exit said: ‘Yeah it’s an American film’. I said to them: ‘No, it’s not ‘is not an American film’, it would rather be a kind of hybrid between Italian cinema, swashbuckling and obviously Asian cinema, but I never considered the film to be American. that Americans would make a movie like Pact of the Wolves. Besides, if The Pact of the Wolves has been so successful in the United States and fascinates many people in the United States it is precisely because it is something that they don’t want to do, not that they don’t know how to do, that they don’t want to do.”
Emilie Dequenne, not so Angelic
A pure object of pop culture, therefore, both humble and ambitious, which anticipated from the beginning of the 2000s the qualities of today’s mainstream cinema. More than 20 years later, it remains a high-flying entertainment:
“When you watch it today… The pleasure we had and the lack of complexes with which we made it allowed the film to travel at the start, that is to say to to be watched by a lot of different audiences around the world. But, also, I think that’s what allows him today to hold up, to hold on.”
Couldn’t have said it better. And if The Pact of the Wolves fascinates you, look out for our great dossier on the career of Christophe Gans, which he did us the honor of commenting on.