Sergei Bodrov’s Mongol tells the story of Genghis Kahn’s rise to power. The film Starts with the future Kahn as a child known as Temüjin (Tadanobu Asano) and follows him up to the point where he unites the various Mongolian tribes and claims the title of Kahn. The film is rumored to be the first part of a trilogy chronicling the Kahn’s life.
The story follows Temüjin who at the age of 10 inherits his father’s mantle as Kahn and then almost immediately has it stripped from him by a rival (who vows to kill him as soon as the boy comes of age). He is sold into slavery, exiled, given sanctuary, creates armies, looses them, imprisoned, and even stares down God on his path towards his final Destiny. When Temüjin finally embraces this fate, he makes the decision with an understated and pragmatic grace almost as if deciding what to cook for dinner. Asano’s performance as the King to be, is powerful and with a touch of humor. He takes everything in stride victories and failures alike. Khulan Chuluun as Temüjin’s wife/queen Borte is also fantastic she conveys a steely determination that makes you believe that she can hold her own against any of the men in the film and truly earns her place beside her Kahn.
As strong as the acting and the characters are, what really impressed me was the way the culture of these small interconnected nomadic tribes was presented. Many times in Historical films, it seems that the characters (no matter how fully-realized) seem to carry a 20th or 21st Century mentality even while claiming to be from our distant past. But in Mongol, Bodrov and the cast really work to create the sense of this ancient culture; one where history is oral, social status is born into, and the mind set for the common man is much closer to a pack mentality than the individualist psychology we enjoy today. Asia still retains much of this tradition of community, but in the film we are shown how at one time not too long ago, that communal thinking was integral to daily survival.
The film presents us with a wonderful treat by showing the various dealings and manipulations that comprised “Politics” during this region in the 12th century.
Khans, rose to power by either being born into it or by out thinking their opponents and subjects. We see the various leaders’ successes and failures through the eyes of Temüjin, and its like watching a pivot point in human evolution. Those who succeed literally do so by thinking in ways that their opponents are incapable of. Through out the film we see Temüjin employ this ‘new thinking” naturally and to great success, many of his victories rely on his shrewdly identifying who should be allies and who will be foes.
Despite what some of the trailers are promoting, the film is light in its depiction of warfare. The battles are engaging and well choreographed, but there are precious few shown. Bodrov relies on character development rather than bloodshed to make his point. And for the most part this works to the film’s advantage.
If the film has a flaw it’s that Temüjin experiences a number of challenges in his rise to power, and while some experiences are shown in great detail, others are glossed over almost completely leaving the viewer with the sense that something important was left out or somehow missed.
Astonishingly, the epic film was shot on a budget of only $20 million, with a crew that comprised members over 40 nationalities, but every dollar is on screen. The set and costume design is fantastic and authentic looking, and the cinematography is stunning with Bodrov taking full advantage of the vast landscapes while shooting on location in Inner Mongolia. Dialog is in Mongolian with English subtitles.
Mongol received a limited release in the USA on June 6th, available in only 5 theaters.
On June 20th, the film spread out to nearly 100 theaters across the country and hopefully will find its way into few more during its run. Mongol is a thought provoking immersive experience, definitely worth seeing if you have the chance.