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To the above two comments.
You know how they say history was written by the victors? That's true for everyone but the Mongols. Most of their history was written by the Chinese, Russians, Arabs, and other conquered peoples who had an interest in perpetuating Genghis Khan = bloodthirsty savage.
The movie is based on one of the few sources about Genghis khan written in Mongolian. It's called the secret history of the Mongols and was written shortly after he died as a record for the Mongolian royal family. He was just a chieftain's's son of a very minor tribe. That's what makes this story so impressive, he didn't start out as a king or a prince with a huge army, like Alexander. Everything he had, he had to earn. He didn't get to be Genghis Khan until he was in his 30's. He was always aware of how victory wasn't assured but had to be paid for with planning and strategy. He wasn't a saint by any means but he wasn't an unthinking savage. This movie is actually meant to be the first in a trilogy with the second one probably detailing his conquest of north china and the third the conquest of the Khwarezim empire in Iran and Afghanistan.
This is an approach that I like because the Alexander movie died on account of it trying to condense all of his conquests into one movie.
Astonishingly, the name and the person of Genghis Khan in Sergei
Bodrov's "Mongol," a great, Shakespearean drama about this seminal
figure in history, don't appear until the very end of the two-hour
epic. Instead, we see Temudjin, the man yet to become (posthumously)
Khagan (emperor) of what was to be for several centuries the largest
contiguous empire in history. Whether Bodrov completes the contemplated
two additional chapters of the story or not, "Mongol" stands on its own
as a masterpiece.
Contradicting the Western (and Russian) image of Genghis as the monstrous conqueror, Bodrov's work is influenced by Lev Gumilev's "The Legend of the Black Arrow" and is based on "The Secret History of the Mongols," the 13th century Mongolian account, unknown until its re-emergence in China 700 years later. For a director, who learned in school only about the horrors of Russia's 200-year subjugation by the Mongols, taking a "larger view" is a remarkable act.
Unlike Omar Sharif in the 1965 Henry Levin "Genghis Khan" or Takashi Sorimachi in Shinichiro Sawai's disappointing 2007 "To the Ends of the Earth and Sea," Tadanobu Asano in Bodrov's film is strictly Temudjin, not the great Khan. He lived from 1162 to 1227, and "Mongol" covers the years between 1171 and the beginning of the unification of Mongolian tribes around the turn of the century.
In fact, the spookily powerful child Temudjin (Odnyam Odsuren) dominates the first part of the film, undergoing trials and tribulations that make the lives of Dickens' abused and imperiled children look like a picnic. From age nine into his 30s, Temudjin was orphaned, hunted, imprisoned, enslaved, and constantly threatened by extinction. Literally alone in the vast landscape (brilliantly photographed by Rogier Stoffers and Sergei Trofimov), Temudjin escapes death repeatedly, at times almost mysteriously.
"Mongol" is huge - with endless vistas and epic crowd scenes, quite without special effects - but Bodrov keeps the setting just that, never strutting visuals for their own sake. The film is about people, and the cast is magnificent. Asano's face and eyes hold attention, and make the viewer experience simultaneous feelings of getting to know the character he plays and being held at arm's length. Bodrov and Asano escape all the many Hollywood pitfalls in making an epic - they present nothing easy, predictable, trite. The term "Shakespearean" is used here advisedly.
The Mongolian actors are sensational: Khulan Chuluun is luminous as Borte, Temudjin's wife; Borte's 10-year-old self, the girl who chooses Temudjin, then 9, while he thinks he is the one making the decision, is unforgettable, even if the name is hard to remember: Bayertsetseg Erdenebat.
Chinese actors are vital to the film. As Temudjin's father (poisoned by Tatars before the boy reached 10), Sai Xing Ga makes an impression few actors can achieve in such a brief appearance. Nearly overshadowing Asano is the grand thespian exercise from Sun Hong-Lei, as Temudjin's all-important blood brother Jamukha. Sun is almost too big for the big screen, perhaps a less intense performance would have served the film better.
Another problem is near the end of "Mongol," with Borte's stranger-than-fiction (and actually fictional) rescue of Temudjin from a Tangut prison, years, hundreds of miles, and impossible alliances and dalliances telescoped into a few near-incongruous minutes - all to cover a 10-year-long gap in Genghis' history. Except for that, however, Bodrov's work is engrossing, spectacular, and memorable.
I saw this last week at the Toronto film festival and loved it. Many of the people in my group did not want to see it because they were not interested in the subject matter and ended up loving the film. It seemed to be the overall favorite of the group (we saw 12 films in Toronto). There is a fair amount of blood so if one is bothered by violence, you may not enjoy it. In some ways it reminded me of Braveheart because you learned about the history, but there was also beautiful cinematography, landscapes, and very well done battle scenes. This film could possibly be in the running for the best foreign film Oscar.
Sergei Bodrov's Mongol provides something of a biography of the early
years of Genghis Khan, at this point known as Temudjin. The film is
destined to be historically flawed as there is little known about his
life; this being said, Bodrov takes large handfuls of creative license.
Bodrov's Mongol attempts to capture a man's rise to power in just two
hours without making a rushed film; this impossible feat is Mongol's
only true shortcoming.
Mongol is very much a "based off a true story" kind of movie. We certainly aren't seeing the true Genghis Khan. The film is riddled with historical inaccuracies, he is captured three times during the film, in reality he was only captured once. However, historical accuracy is not Bodrov's intent. Sergei Bodrov, grew up in the Soviet Union, a place where Genghis Khan is painted as a vicious killing machine. Mongol attempts to humanize him. This is the film's strongest point.
Mongol is just a good love story. Temudjin picks a bride at age nine named Börte and is set to wed her in five years. Soon after his father, a Khan, is killed. Betrayed by those his father used to command, Temudjin is left with nothing and swears to take it all back. This is the basic premise of Mongol. The relationship between Temudjin and Börte is portrayed as beautifully simple love. The film uses this connection to move the plot rather than bloody violence. Mongol does, however, contain several spectacular battles. Bodrov seems to have taken a page out of 300 and we're given a splattering of death sequences that while all together different feel and are shot similarly.
The largest flaw of the film is it's continuity. Bodrov, in order to condense the story under 120 minutes constantly cuts scenes in half. He will start a conflict and cut to it being over, leaving the audience to infer what happened. This is a double edged sword, on one hand it frees up time for necessary character development, on the other it makes the film feel choppy. Mongol is one of the few films that should be 15 minutes longer.
In the end, Sergei Bodrov's Mongol is an epic war film that succeeds not only on that level, but as a beautiful love story. The breathtaking landscapes of Mongolia provide an awe inspiring backdrop for the action on the screen. Mongol is a film of proportions not usually seen in Russian or Asian cinema. It delivers on a level that rivals if not surpasses many Hollywood blockbusters while keeping surprising heart evident throughout the film. Mongol truly is an inspiring film not only for the eyes.
While the plot contained some dubious twists and had rather strange and slow pacing, the overall effect of this movie is stellar. The cinematography rivals, while being similar to, movies such as "Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon". The score was amazing. The acting was, to my English speaking eyes and ears, convincing. The few combat scenes were filmed and choreographed to great effect. I am not sure how historically accurate this movie is, but it works as an enchanting piece of cinema. Highly recommended to anyone who likes art films and historical epics. Seriously, the locations make me want to take a vacation to the steppes immediately.
The first installment of a prospective trilogy, Mongol chronicles the
early life of Temudjin, from his childhood on the Asian steppe to his
ascension to Khan in 1206.
The performances are passable with special thanks to Honglei Sun, with an engaging turn as Temudjin's long-time friend and ally Jamukha but the film has a rushed quality to it that is predominantly the fault of the screenplay. We jump too quickly from one scene to the next, the tension is constantly disrupted, and the characters are, for the most part, one-dimensional, void of quirks and personal histories and any of the other qualities that might make them relatable. I'm not asking for anything fancy: theirs was a tribal culture constantly engaged in the act of survival, and any philosophical rants or emotive confessionals would feel forced and inorganic, but none of that pardons the film for the simple crime of not giving its characters enough to do. The needs of the plot seem to dictate their actions, rather than the needs of the characters driving the plot.
The biggest casualty, as always, is the love story. Ironically enough, Temudjin and Borte generate the most chemistry when they meet as children, Borte commanding him with a freeness of spirit that gets less and less visible as the movie progresses to pick her as his bride. Unfortunately, their subsequent romance is more about desperate rescues and long-winded goodbyes than it is the simple moments of intimacy that make a relationship believable.
That said, the cinematography is tremendous and the costumes top-notch, and the casting department deserves a couple extra bushels of brownie points for picking actors who unlike many a Hollywood ensemble look like they could actually survive the conditions they supposedly inhabit. The combat scenes are captivating and cleverly shot, and despite the inevitable comparison to such battle-heavy epics as Lord of the Rings and Gladiator, Bodrov keeps a handle on things, never letting any of the battles run beyond the five minute mark, endowing the film with an element of realism and restraint where many of the other so-called epics go completely over the top. True, the movie relies a bit more heavily on CGI than I would prefer, but the Mongolian landscape, the real star of the show, is so gorgeous, so demanding, so jaw-droppingly authentic that we quickly forget our visual grievances and get lost in the rudimentary act of watching.
A pity we can never lose ourselves completely.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
One sign of a strong movie for me is that after the movie ends is that
the story engaged that I want to understand more about the characters.
This did it for me. I'm ready to research and read more about
Before I went into the Toronto International Film Festival screening of this movie, all I knew about this was that it had something to do with 'Genghis Khan' -- the leader of Mongolia at its height, So here I am thinking -- it's the life of Genghis Khan, warring, fighting, and so on and so forth.
But this is where the unexpected pulled apart. What I really liked were the human touch elements: you got to know of the khan (leader of a general group/tribe in Mongolia) through the events that surrounded him: assassination, jealousy, wife-stealing, loyalty, and lawlessness. His motivations to unite were sprinkled throughout the events that surrounded his life. His humanity shone through nicely. And instead of a series of fighting scenes, the highs and the lows really made for a very full movie.
Check it out if you have the opportunity to do so as it may not get wide North American release.
The director was present for this and he proclaimed it took 4 years, 600 people (production, I presume), and 1000 extras to come up with this very large yet very accessible epic drama! Wow! Sometimes bleak landscape, yurts, and the Mongolian steppes provide the right backdrop against an awesome sound-track for this very human tale.
Great work! Highly recommended.
This film is an example of an extremely strong narrative accompanied by excellent cinematography and superbly executed war scenes... reminds me of Saving Pvt Ryan without all the bangs and clatter. The acting is also commendable. There seems to be a great deal of research that has gone into the subject and is a great eduction on the early life of Chengiz Khan. I wish there was more, but for the integrity of the subject I think the makers have done justice to the story. Would really appreciate if this made into a trilogy, but I don't think the film makers have left any scope to stretch it further. They have compressed a epic life tale into a little more than an hour and a half and with great flair and ease which is calls for a standing ovation. Lesson to Indian Film makers!!!
Mongol (2007), was co-written and directed by Sergei Bodrov. It was
filmed in Kazakhstan, and is in Mongolian with English subtitles. It's
a biography of Ghenghis Khan, especially his rise to power. The movie
quotes an old proverb: "Do not scorn a weak cub; he may become a brutal
tiger." Actually, as portrayed in the film, Ghenghis Khan was hardly a
weak cub, even as a young child. However, he certainly became a tiger
when grown--whether brutal or just powerful is another question.
The film is more or less consistent with the Wikipedia report of Khan's life. He was captured and enslaved as a boy, but managed to escape and eventually conquer his local tribal enemies. (The movie portrays Ghenghis Khan as a young boy and then a young man. The film ends before we can see Khan's eventual consolidation of his huge empire.)
There is (literally) a cast of thousands. The movie is colorful, the battle scenes are graphic, and men, women, and horses all look great. The acting was excellent, especially that of Odnyam Odsuren as the young Ghenghis Khan, Tadanobu Asano as the grown man, and the beautiful Khulan Chuluun as Börte, his wife.
For political and/or esthetic reasons, Khan is portrayed as a man who brought the warring Mongolian tribes together, and as a lawgiver and just ruler. I don't have enough knowledge of the period to know whether the people of his empire would have taken this view. However, this is a movie, not a Ph.D. dissertation, so I accepted it as an action-filled and enjoyable--if not profound--film.
We saw this film at the excellent Rochester High Falls International Film Festival. Because of the sweeping nature of the battles, and the glorious shots of the landscape, this movie will lose a lot on DVD. Try to see it in a theater, preferably one with a large screen.
Saw this flick last night and I really loved it. As I understand it
many Mongolians hate the film for historical inaccuracies and a heavily
accented cast (the lead is from Japan) but if you are unfamiliar with
the area and culture you'll find a great story that brings a new light
to a historical figure that a surprisingly large portion of the world
The cinematography is gorgeous and the subtitle script is excellent.
What really makes this film great are the performances and the action scenes.
When he gains followers and unites Mongolia you understand why.
Hopefully the film will get people to read more about the original man and discover the historical inaccuracies.
Of course as historical accuracies go it much more accurate then Elizabeth: The Golden Age.
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