Mongol: The Rise To Power Of Genghis Khan
Review by Jack Foley
SERGEI Bodrov’s historical epic Mongol: The Rise of Genghis Khan is a striking film in so many ways. Visually stunning, emotionally compelling and featuring some ferocious battle sequences, it thoroughly deserved its Oscar nomination for Best Foreign Language Film.
Based on leading scholarly accounts and written by Bodrov and Arif Aliyev, Mongol explores the early years of the ruler who was born as Temudgin in 1162 and paints a very different picture of this future conqueror to the tyrant he’s normally portrayed as.
Picking up while he’s still a boy, aged nine, the film follows Temudgin through the pivotal moments in his life, whether picking his future wife, Borte, witnessing the poisoning of his father, or battling to survive the elements as he seeks to outwit his father’s killers.
In adulthood, it then furthers the loving relationship between Temudgin (now played by Tadanobu Asano) and Borte (Khulan Chuluun) as well as the fateful falling out with his blood brother, Jamukha (Honglei Sun), that would help to establish his credentials as such an inspirational leader.
Russian director Bodrov has long been aware of the legend of Genghis Khan ever since learning about him as a boy at school, but his views changed dramatically after he read The Legend Of The Black Arrow, by Lev Gumilev, in the 1990s, and thereby gleaned a more nuanced portrait of the warrior.
He then added the idea of making Mongol onto his wish-list, having been compelled to explore how Temudgin became Genghis Khan.
The subsequent movie was shot in the very lands that gave birth to the legend – China, Mongolia and Kazakhstan – and add to the authenticity of the overall production, giving viewers an insight into the beautiful but harsh terrain that provided the backdrop to Khan’s upbringing.
Just occasionally, the film threatens to become episodic as Bodrov attempts to cram so much in and there’s a nagging suspicion that much has still been overlooked but, on the whole, this is an historical epic to rival the likes of Gladiator and Kingdom of Heaven (the director’s cut) rather than Alexander.
The battles are spectacular, the vistas breathtaking and the attention to detail admirable. But it’s Bodrov’s own decision to place the human relationships to the fore that gives the film its heart, ensuing that you care about the characters and fully understand their motivations.
As such, his international cast shines, with Tadanobu Asano particularly strong as Khan, effortlessly balancing his desire for revenge with the compassion and tactical guile of a brilliant leader and family patriarch. His scenes with Chuluun’s equally impressive Borte are tenderly realised and provide a nice contrast to some of the harsher elements of the story.
At just a little over two hours, Bordov’s film doesn’t outstay its welcome either and perhaps the biggest tribute to his vision is that viewers will probably feel they could have spent another hour (or even two) in his subject’s company. A sequel dealing with his older years has, reportedly, been promised – so let’s hope it gets realised soon.
In Mongolian, with subtitles
Running time: 2hrs 6mins
UK DVD Release: September 29, 2008