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Late 12th century. Temudjin, born to a Mongolian tribe lives the life of a clan prince, until a plot against his peace-seeking father has the entire tribe abandon him, his mother and his brothers. Surviving the bitter hardships against all odds and learning the importance of loyalty, determination and sacrifice the hard way, the boy grows up to become a strong warrior, one who will slowly unite all clans against the Tatars, before going on to conquer the greatest empire in History.
It was about time really! Hollywood for one has long ignored the story of the great conqueror, beside delivering the odd artistic and financial flop - John Wayne's ghastly Conqueror comes to mind. Now a Mongolian version arrives, promising something different.
One of the only other historical figures comparable to Genghis Khan is Winston Churchill, in that their lives were so remarkable throughout that any period of their lives would make for fantastic cinema - the reason why China was able to make a 25 hour mini-series about the Khan that remains compelling. The film-makers here choose to focus on the earlier part of his life, to better explain the man, and deliver a rousing adventure film. The mix of effortless poetry and gritty understatement gives the film a unique feel that is far removed from Hollywood glamor or Chinese stylization, and all the better for it.
Of course, many a viewer will come to this expecting big fight scenes. Some of the early skirmishes disappoint with a retro feel of people just aiming at hitting each other's blade rather than actually aiming for flesh, but other moments of violence show genuine originality. The fact that the photography remains excellent throughout, notably preferring long moving shots to MTV editing, and that greater focus is given to the more intimate moments of violence, only enhance the film: the death of Temudjin's father, Temudjin avenging his father, Hoe'lun (T.'s mother) giving birth, etc, have a desperation and immediacy that manages to feel fresh and new, while also hitting the viewer with their visceral force.
The film ends before Temudjin has launched his wars of conquest, and he has grown from a stubborn boy to a broad-minded warrior, the man who would then go on to create a large Empire open to numerous new ideas.
This film is definitely a must-see, even in its truncated, badly scanned DVD version (obtainable in Great Britain). Hopefully someday a studio will give it a polish and the digital release it deserves, and all film-goers would benefit from it: good epics are a dying breed these days...
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