Mongol (2007)


(director/writer: Sergei Bodrov; screenwriter: Arif Aliyev/from the works of Lev Gumilyov; cinematographers: Rogier Stoffers/Sergei Trofimov; editors: Valdís Óskarsdóttir/Zach Staenberg; music: Tuomas Kantelinen; cast: Tadanobu Asano (Temudjin), Honglei Sun (Jamukha), Khulan Chuluun (Börte), Odnyam Odsuren (Young Temudjin), Amarbold Tuvinbayar (Young Jamukha), Bayartsetseg Erdenabat (Young Borte), Amadu Mamadakov (Targutai), Aliya (Oelun), Ba Sen (Esugei), Sun Ben Hon (Monk), Ba Yin Qi Qi Ge (Temulun); Runtime: 126; MPAA Rating: R; producers: Anton Melnik/Sergei Bodrov/Sergei Selyanov; Picturehouse; 2007-Russia-in Mongolian with English subtitles)
“It’s a lumbering, emotionally cold, slow-going old-fashioned escapist sweeping biopic on the early years of Genghis Khan.”

Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz

It’s a lumbering, emotionally cold, slow-going old-fashioned escapist sweeping biopic on the early years of Genghis Khan, that’s intent on keeping things looking authentic (shot on locations in Kazakhstan and in Inner Mongolia), showing battles with horsemen thundering across the plains and telling what it’s like to be a Mongol in order to straighten out any misconceptions we might have had of our stereotyped notion of Genghis Khan just as a ruthless madman. This is the first leg of a trilogy on the rise to power of Genghis Khan, and is most noteworthy for its stunning photography and by getting to the credo of Genghis Khan: Mongols need laws. I will make them obey — even if I have to kill half of them.

In this controversial revisionist historical film, the future Genghis Khan is sympathetically pictured as a loving family man, a brave and fearless warrior, a visionary leader who has the ability to unite the Mongols, modernize their traditional customs and give them easy to follow laws to live by or else be killed if they disobey them. Russian director-writer Sergei Bodrov (“Prisoner of the Mountains”/”Nomad”) based it on the scholarly writings of Russian historian Lev Gumilyov and cowrote it with Arif Aliyev. It has an all Asian cast and stars Japanese actor Tadanobu Asano, who plays the future Genghis Khan born as Temudgin in 1162. The film takes us from Temudgin’s boyhood to when he reaches 30, when he would become the feared evil Genghis Khan of the united Mongols who subjugated a fifth of the world under his rule of terror. It was nominated for an Oscar for Best Foreign Language Film.

The film follows Temudgin’s tumultuous childhood in the remote steppes of Central Asia, where at nine (Odnyam Odsuren) his tribal leader father (Ba Sen) has him choose a bride and he stubbornly chooses the 10-year-old Börte (Bavertsetseg Erdenebat), a member from a weak tribe rather than following his father’s suggestion that he choose one from the stronger Merkit tribe that will help dad correct a wrong he did to that tribe by stealing his wife, Temudgin’s mother, from them. On the way home, dad dies as his milk is poisoned by his enemies and the kid takes over leadership of the tribe. But Targutai (Amadu Mamadakov), a hostile servant of the kid’s father, refuses to accept the kid as the khan and ruthlessly takes over the tribe and banishes Temudgin, swearing to kill him when he becomes an adult. Hiding out in a sacred mountain, Temudgin is befriended by the slightly comical and egotistical warrior Jamukha, and they become blood brothers. After several other incidents, Jamukha (Honglei Sun, Chinese actor), now a young adult like his blood brother, will unite with him to get Temudgin’s wife Börte (Khulan Chuluun) back from the Merkits who stole her. But after the victory the two have a falling out over the interpretation of Mongol customs and go to war. With Temudgin’s sworn enemy, the cowardly Targutai, allied with Jamukha, Temudgin loses the battle and is sold into slavery in China; but through a monk’s help his loyal wife locates him and frees him from his caged cell. This time Temudgin gathers a great army of Mongols that defeat his past enemies and he’s now the Genghis Khan, and he has avenged the enemies who took the life of his father.

Not that much different or better than most Hollywood sword-and-sandal films, but watchable and surprisingly accurate except for a few embellishments. I learned the following about Mongols: Mongols don’t kill women and children; fear the thunder; worship the sky god Tengri; don’t make war over a woman; don’t spill blood at a resting place; live in yurts; and when modernized under Genghis Khan, they will be killed for disobeying the khan.