Mongol: The Rise of Genghis Khan
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Despite the low budget, nothing in the movie looks cheaply filmed; everything looks like that of a big budget film six times more expensive, from costumes to makeup (and the craggly dirt buildup on Temudjin during his time in captivity). I don't speak Mongolian, so I can't tell whether the accents spoken are accurately Mongolian, but for an American audience, it was great for authenticity (rather than having them speak Russian or Kazakh).
The movie excels in two particular aspects which really make this one more than just a casual ancient-world flick; the battles and the people.
While Genghis Khan is demonized in the West as a barbarous conqueror, he is seen like a hero in the East, and this movie serves to show him as both and neither, making him more than just black or white, but a fully fleshed out person with ambitions to uniting all the Mongol tribes as one beneath him. He is utterly believable as a human being, fallible, and seemingly very much driven by his love for his wife and children, whom he nevertheless must leave constantly to fulfill his dream.
There is also Jamukha, who manages to be both a piggish, slothy figure, and a noble, loyal friend to Temudjin, when their dreams conflict and they become enemies, with a very painful and realistic portrayal of just why Jamukha would betray Temudjin, and his lack of joy in facing his opponent on a field of battle.
Then there's the battles. As any Ancient/Medieval war movie to be expected, it is bloody. My only annoyances in a puritanic-historian way were the suits of armor, which seemed not to be made of much metal as they would have been in Mongolian times.
Another minor thing that becomes a little excessive, and arguably rather like a recurring joke is shots of blood, showing them being spilled in thousands of thick drops rather than in fountains or bursts of liquid.
The final battle sequence manages to both utilize the Mongolian expertise in archery and cavalry and innovate with something both insanely risky and never before seen in Medieval battle depictions. Likely seen in the trailer, as Jamukha sends the bulk of his cavalry force at Temudjin's center, he unleashes a very small number of thickly armored cavalry, armed with double curves swords, which then rush through the enemy cavalry, using the swords to slash at the enemy's sides like Scythed Chariots.
The armored cavalry is a kamikaze force, as after brutalizing the enemy cavalry, Temudjin has his archers unleash a flood of arrows on the force, killing the cavalry on both sides down to a man.
Overall a great movie, which doesn't sacrifice the macro-story of Genghis Khan and his dream of a Mongol empire for the micro-story of Temudjin's love life. Of which I wrote virtually nothing about.
Although the film goes ahead (mostly in chronological order) with several "One Year Later" and other useful captions, we lose ourselves in a story of one man's struggle for survival among his Khan and the love interests that shape, bind and beget tribal rivalries and aspirations. We follow the coming-of-age footsteps of Temujin (Tadanobu Asano) and his older rival Targutai (Amandu Mamadakov) who both strive for power and read the oracles of gods like Tengri, whom they beckon for help.
Some of the battles are Trojan-like in thrust. Temujin will spare no one for Borte (Khulan Chuluun), his lifelong love interest. Between his patient endurance and his love, Temujin becomes a leader who can match wills with any Mongol tribe. Going from tribal feuds to a far-reaching dynasty, the film chronicles the real human faces that made history happen.
Before becoming Khan, he must master the elements. Between the harshness of tundra to humiliation and hunger, the sharp edge of life known for bitterly cold winters, make or break the existence of people who rely on their armies, shelter, and horses to survive.
It cannot be emphasized enough how the lingering beauty of each frame is arresting enough to justify viewing this two hour and five minute film. Furthermore, the haunting audio accentuating tribal customs and battle scenes resonate with mesmerizing grandeur. Although being reserved is perhaps a cultural trait, I felt some of the scenes could have added a bit more zest to the acting, but much of the intensity is non-verbal and convincing indeed. Writer-director, Sergei Bodrov, deserves heaping praises for building such a tightly built drama and some truly exquisitely shot scenes.
Although released last year and up for 2007's Oscar jury, both the cinema and DVD releases came about this year, so it's not too late to hold 'Mongol' as one of the truly worthy epics and one of the best movies to come out all year.
A J.P.'s Pick 4.5*'s =Very Good-Exceptional HIGHLY RECOMMENDED
I went to the theater to see this flick not knowing much about it, and I looked at the audience from time to time, one gentlemen was on the edge of his seat! This movie was far better than any other movie about Khan that I've ever seen (including John Waynes). Nobody seems to care that other actors have played Ghenghis throughout the ages, which is to say that I don't know why people are upset a Japanese actor played the role. I thought he did an outstanding job.
I have recommended this film to friends, which typically I don't do and have'nt done in a long time.
I don't know if the DVD will have over-dubs, but the sub-titles were very easy to read in the theater.
I'm giving this movie 5 stars cause it's like an Asian version of Braveheart, which is'nt historically accurate but highly entertaining!
It's not a bad story, either, although not one that will keep you riveted to the screen for the full two hours. However, I wasn't bored, either, although some of the action scenes looked too repetitive with very hokey-looking special-effects concerning blood splashing out of people in the battle scenes. It did not look real, but as if it were drawn. It's ironic in that the production values seem to be so high with a such a nicely-filmed effort, yet the action scenes are staged like a B-movie.
In a nutshell, this is the story of how "Genghis Kahn," who is "Temudjin" throughout the movie, spent his tough early life and how he became the famous warrior. We just see how many hardships the man endured to become who he was later in life. He was never referred to as Genghis Kahn which, I learned hear, is a title more than a name. That must have come later, after he had control of all the Mongol armies, which is where the film ends.
Many times, it's a not a pleasant existence for "Temudjin," who was marked man from the age of nine. We see him spend many lonely hours held captive in different places. The looks on his face are memorable. Odnyam Odsuren ad the young "Temudjin" and Tadanobu Asano as the adult "Temudjin" both had extraordinarily photographic faces.
One of the few problems I had with the movie were understanding "the rest of the story" as certain scenes ended abruptly leaving me (and I assume other viewers) wondering "what happened?" His friends, though, were fun to watch and his bride was a beautiful, kind and strong woman, as pictured in this movie. Actually, I found this just as much of a love story as a war epic, and the romance angle was far more dramatic. The devotion the lead male and female had to each other, and the faithfulness and loyalty were inspiring, to say the least.
Having grown up as a Russian, furthermore, in Moscow in the Arbat neighborhood literally a two lane street from Mongol Embassy (on what used to be called Voevodin Lane, across school #69), I have always been fascinated with the Mongol culture. Frankly, what Russian wasn't after the three hundred year Mongol-Tartar yoke?!
This isn't the story of conquest, but a story of love, forgiveness, and detachment from the material. Before the great Khan became the man to take away others' freedom he had to find his own. Bodrov's movie is a close up on an undeviating flight of consciousness powered by personal ethics (operating from Kohlberg's highest stage of moral development, that stage in which a mind makes its own rules, balancing on the brink of enlightenment and sociopathy). Bodrov reveals the spirituality of the motive: "never betray your khan," i.e. the spirituality of integrity (in the sense of being true to your self, with any given "khan" being nothing more than a projection of one's Self with which one later identifies).
In Bodrov's interpretation, Genghis' military success seems to owe more to the integrity of his army and secularity of leadership (that did not impose its religion but only law and taxes) than to military acumen. The Mongol conquest, unlike, say the Crusades, did not seem to attempt to rob people of their psychological sovereignty but only of the attempts to possess that which doesn't belong to anyone anyway, in a kind of bloody spiritual detoxification and re-prioritization.
Who knows?! But what a beautiful interpretation.
Cinematographically, the movie has the best of that Dovzhenkesque (a school of Soviet cinematography) slow-motion focus on detail, exemplified in such visually and metaphorically rich scenes as; falling through the ice, from the snow-white surface of the day, into the murky underwater of the unconscious; the shamanic communion with the wolf essence; Khan's brother's spin-around-and-slide-into-the-sleeves-of-an-offered-sable-coat harmony of uninterrupted physical flow of a relaxed mind; etc, etc.
The cast and characters are amazing: Temujin's psychopathic calmness, Jamukha's face-saving mannerism of throwing back his head in demonstrative acceptance of "what is," Borte's inspiring beauty and non-interference with Temujin's existential trajectory (despite her obvious romantic attachments and preferences).
Bodrov's emphasis on choice - in Brother, in Mongol - reveals an existential commitment of his own, a commitment to finding the humanity of motive behind the inhumanity of action.
Pavel Somov, Ph.D.