Made in: Mongolia (location), Russia, Germany, Kazakhstan, China (location)
Language: Mongolian, Chinese (Mandarin)
Director: Sergei Bodrov
Starring: Tadanobu Asano, Khulan Chuluun, Sun Hong-Lei
Year: 2007

Synopsis: Taking place in the 12th Century, the story follows the early life of Genghis Khan. Known as Temudjin (Tadanobu Asano), we follow his life as a young boy as he is taken by his father on a journey to find a future bride. While visiting another nomadic clan, Temudjin selects a spunky girl named Börte.

But many hardships befall Temudjin, and he spends much of his time fleeing the wrath of other khans who want to kill him. He faces starvation, humiliation, betrayals, and if that wasn't enough, he is at one point sold into slavery and imprisoned in the Tangut kingdom, which is run by the Chinese.

But with the help of his loving wife, Börte (Khulan Chuluun), he overcomes all odds and rises to greatness.

Sergei Bodrov portrays the legendary conquerer as a loyal, compassionate human instead of a two-dimensional, bloodthirsty brute as seen in Bill and Ted's Excellent Adventure.

The Good: Very well-directed and acted, Mongol certainly looks very authentic. Locales, costumes, props, and stunts (instead of heavy CG) give Bodrov's film an epic feel, even though it was reported to have a very low budget.

Acclaimed Japanese actor Tabanobu Asano has a very strong presence, and Khulan Chuluun as Börte is great as well. But there really isn't enough to be said about the cinematography. In terms of the look alone, this film is nearly on par with Chen Kaige's The Emperor and the Assassin.

The Bad: As with many (if not most) biopics, historical accuracy is always an issue. Although this movie was said to be painstakingly researched with material taken from scholarly accounts, many of the events in Mongol seem a little too neatly packaged. Either that or Genghis Khan's life miraculously unfolded in a manner perfectly conducive to cinematic adaptation.

Also, portraying Temudjin as a "nice guy" at times seemed like more of an attempt to appeal to our 21st Century sensibilities. He is seen as a just, noble, and caring man. He talks of freedom, liberation, and the importance of individual choice.

But in an unforgiving land where he's often being chased by yodeling horsemen wielding large, sharp objects, where did he learn those values and come to believe them? And the whole concept of individualism seems strangely close to Western European philosophy.

The vastness of the Mongolian wilderness creates some confusion as well. It's often difficult to tell exactly how far warring tribes are from each other. With shots of cliffs, mountains, and wide-open plains, we get the sense that Temudjin is often alone.

Yet every week he seems to somehow bump into the same four people, including the guy who's been trying to kill him all his life.

And how does he recruit people to fight in his army? One moment we see Temudjin making plans to do battle, and in the next he's managed to assemble several thousand people. Most of us have enough trouble getting twelve of our closest friends together for a birthday party, let alone trying to gather an entire army of people willing to die for your cause.

Who would like this movie: Mongol is for you if you're a fan of foreign films, epics, and historical figures. Of course, you'd probably get more out of this film if you know a lot of about Mongolian history and the way nomadic life functioned back then. I clearly don't, which may explain some of my snarky comments.

Sergei Bodrov has made a very strong, exciting film full of humanity, heart, and even humor. As a film, it works. But as the biopic of a legend, Mongol is a little too streamlined. This is said to be the first film in a trilogy, so we'll see how the rest of it pans out...

(3 out of 4 stars)

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Review written by: Joe Yang


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