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Mongol: The Early Years of Genghis Khan (2007)

1 rating: 5.0
A movie directed by Sergei Bodrov

The East and West, despite Kiplings claim that they will never meet, are being united for the new film by Sergei Bodrov Sr., Mongol: The Early Years of Genghis Khan. The project, with a budget of 15 million euros, is a major international co-production … see full wiki

Tags: Movie
Director: Sergei Bodrov
1 review about Mongol: The Early Years of Genghis Khan...

The Wrath of Khan

  • Jun 23, 2008
There's a fine line between depictions of war and needless graphic violence, and thankfully, "Mongol" doesn't cross it. Yes, moments of this film are brutal and bloody, but they don't overcrowd the film. More than enough room is left for a compelling human drama, a story of love, commitment, and strength in twelfth-century Mongolia. The ads imply that "Mongol" is the story of Genghis Khan, but that isn't really the case; this is the story of Temudjin, the boy who would grow up to become Genghis Khan and conquer half the known world. It's about the person, not the myth, and that above all made this a worthwhile experience. Filmed in 2007 but just now getting an American theatrical release, Sergei Bodrov's film is sweeping in its visual and emotional beauty, with cinematography that borders on the sublime and a simple yet significant story.

It's the year 1172 at the start of the story proper, and at that point, Temudjin is just nine years old (Odnyam Odsuren). He and his father, a Khan named Esugei (Ba Sen), are traveling from the Steppes of Mongolia to a distant clan because the time has come for Temudjin to choose a wife. When they stop and meet with a different clan, Temudjin meets a ten-year-old girl named Borte (Bayertsetseg Erdenebat); they immediately take a liking to each other, so much so that, by the time he leaves, he chooses her to be his wife. The plan is for Temudjin to return in five years time, at which point the union can be made official. But things take a tragic turn--a rival clan poisons Esugei, and Temudjin and his clan are left at the mercy of a treacherous lieutenant named Targutai (Amadu Mamadakov). Now enslaved and with his father's property forcefully taken, Temudjin vows to someday avenge his father and murder Tergutai.

At around this time, a young boy named Jamukha (Amarbold Tuvshinbayar) rescues Temudjin from the desolate cold of the mountains. The two decide to become blood brothers, and right away you can sense the inherent tension in such a union; the cutting of flesh and the spilling of blood is a painful yet deep commitment to someone. Watching the boys drink bowls of milk laced with each other's blood, I sensed something more sinister was lurking on the horizon. You can tell this is true when Jamukha says that someday he'll be Khan and Temudjin will be his Second in Command. Even at a young age, Jamukha sees this union not in terms of loyalty and respect, but in terms of power. What's really interesting is that Temudjin was most likely seduced by the same lust, considering his transformation into Genghis Khan. Consider the moment he goes to the Sacred Mountain to pray to Tengri, the God of the Blue Sky: a lone gray wolf appears, symbolic not only of Tengri, but also of destructive power.

The story eventually flashes forward to the year 1186, at which point a grown Temudjin (Tadanobu Asano) escapes enslavement and reunites with Borte (Khulan Chuluun), who has been longing for his return ever since the day they met. Despite the fact that they love each other deeply, they're constantly driven apart by battle--sometimes Borte is kidnapped while at other times Temudjin is forced to leave her so that he can fight. The theme of loyalty comes into its own at this stage of the story: while Temudjin and Borte remain devoted to each other, Temudjin and Jamukha (Honglei Sun) have now divided themselves. The idea of friends becoming enemies is certainly not new, especially in stories of civil war and bloodshed. There is, however, a subtlety to their downfall that I greatly appreciated, a slow and steady unraveling that made it all the more believable. I won't delve too deeply into this, but I will say that Temudjin's belief that generous leaders gain a larger following is a wise one. This is something Jamukha doesn't seem to understand.

Some viewers might be disappointed that Temudjin doesn't actually become Genghis Khan by the end of this movie; it's not about his reign, but about his rise to power. There's a reason for this: "Mongol" is the first part of an epic trilogy. There's really no way of knowing how accurate this story is, seeing as Genghis Khan has generally been remembered as a ruthless warrior. "His history was written by his enemies," Sergei Bodrov said when interviewed, and I have no doubt that this is true. Many elements of the screenplay seemed to come straight out of a fable: a man who comes from nothing but gains everything; a woman who often finds herself in distress; a friendship that turns into a rivalry. It's hard to imagine something so formulaic being drawn from the pages of history.

This isn't to say that "Mongol" ever goes in the wrong direction. You watch this movie feeling utterly captivated by the story, the characters, and the look, all of which mutually benefit each other. Even the bloodstained battle scenes have a beauty of their own, albeit not in the conventional sense; slow motion shots of swords flying and blood spurting are expertly captured, pretty much to the point of seeming graceful. But at its core, "Mongol" is about the characters and how they love, hate, honor, and betray one another. As bland as that sounds, it actually helps a great deal because it allows today's audiences to relate to it, to understand why certain things happen. It's a shame virtually no one in the United States got to see this film a year ago, before it nominated for Best Foreign Language Film. It would have been wonderful to praise it along with the Academy.

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