The movie is an epic story of a young Genghis Khan and how events in his early life lead him to become a legendary conqueror. The 9-year-old Temüjin is taken on a trip by his father to select a girl as his future wife. He meets Börte, who says she would like to be chosen, which he does. He promises to return after five years to marry her. Temüjin's father is poisoned on the trip, and dies. As a boy Temüjin passes through starvation, humiliations and even slavery, but later with the help of Börte he overcomes all of his childhood hardships to become one of the greatest conquerors the world has ever known.Written by
The film was financed with money from Germany, Russia, Kazakhstan and the United States. See more »
Non-Mongolian characters in this movie speak modern standard Mandarin Chinese. This would be incorrect because, this language as the standard Chinese language originates with the Qing Dynasty hundreds of years later, the regions depicted in the movie appear to be central and western China where they would speak a different dialect and several characters speaking Chinese don't appear to be Chinese and all and would most likely be speaking a Turkic dialect. See more »
'Mongol,' the Russian-directed semi-historical epic (big emphasis on the semi- here) shot for $20 million in China (and Mongolia and Kazhakistan) with a multi-national cast and crew and Japanese and Chinese stars, purports to depict the first thirty-five years of the life of the emperor Genghis Khan. I say "purports," because not much is known of this period and even in depicting legend, Bodrov chooses to leave out many of the essential connectives that make a good story (or fairy tale or legend). Temudjin, as the young super-Khan is called, is a yoked prisoner, for example, awaiting execution; then, inexplicably, the yoke is off and he's free. He sinks through thin ice deep into the frozen water below; then, inexplicably, he's lying on land and getting rescued. He is languishing in a Chinese prison--his face seeming to acquire a patina of dust and sand (I liked that part: Bodrov excels at faces and tableaux); then he's miraculously found by his faithful wife Borte. She throws him a key and sets him free. Then, inexplicably, he is leading a vast army to defeat his arch rival. Over and over, how we get from point A to point B is left on the cutting-room floor. This is enjoyable as spectacle but unsatisfying from other standpoints.
How Genghis Khan got to be Genghis Khan, in short, is one thing this movie doesn't begin to try to explain. Could anyone? That I don't know; but 'Mongol' presents its biographical narrative without the connectives that make sense of a life. Despite lots of dramatic scenes with snappy dialog, striking images, and above all computer-assisted battles with crunching bones and crackling arrows and ringing swords, the film has an epic style without epic themes because its great issues are not so much resolved as abruptly, magically removed. This may in fact be more an epic love story than anything else. It is that in the backhanded way the 'Odyssey' is a love story, because, though Temudjin is away from Borte a lot of the time as Odysseus is mostly away from Ithaka and Penelope, 'Mongol's' opening sequence gives Borte a primary importance, because she (as played by Bayertsetseg Erdenebat), belonging to another tribe, a liberated young woman of the twelfth century, isn't chosen by but chooses Temudjin when he's nine years old and she's ten. It's not supposed to be that way--and maybe it wasn't; it seems a bit implausible. Temudjin is traveling with his Khan (tribal chieftain) father (Ba Sen) on their way to placate another tribe by choosing the boy's wife from their girls. When they don't, the father is promptly poisoned by the other tribe. And its leader, Targutai (Amadu Mamadakov), vows to kill Temudjin--but not for a year or so, because "Mongols don't kill children."
Well, what Mongols do or don't do seems up for grabs, and probably at the time, historically, "Mongol" itself must have been a rather vague concept. In fact that is another running theme: what's a Mongol? What are their primary values? There is no satisfactory answer, though killing and stealing are advanced as major concepts.
Surprisingly, since not too many are "to the right of Genghis Khan," and since he succeeds in wiping out all his enemies, Temudjin as played (as an adult) by the imposing Tadanobu Asano is a gentle-faced, zen-like fellow who's a strong advocate of fair play. Tadanobu, along with the somewhat over-histrionic Chinese actor Honglai Sun as Jamukha, his childhood blood brother and eventual arch rival, are both impressive. But the real star, with some substantial help from computer-generated effects, is the vast landscape of steppe, snow, mountain, and sky that dominates many scenes. With effective use of lenses and light, the filmmakers have created an epic look, and it's this, plus the authoritative acting, that make this film worth viewing--but only if you like this kind of thing and if you don't mind that you're not going to emerge from it with any historical knowledge. Said to be the first of a trilogy. One will approach the sequels with a certain reserve.
Shown as part of the San Francisco International Film Festival April-May 2008 and in US theatrical release June 2008.
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