The story of Temudgin (Tadanobu Asano), spanning his life from age 9 in 1172 when he choses his bride, who becomes his soul mate, Borte (Khulan Chuluun) in the long, dangerous wars that follow. Taken prisoner by warring tribes, forming a brotherly bond with Jamukha (Honglei Sun) that is eventually doomed and through battles and adventures, he takes his place in history in 1206, when the feuding nomadic clans of Mongolia finally united under his leadership and he conquered half the world - as the Khan of Khans. Genghis Khan.
Review by Louise Keller:
Vast landscapes, savage battles, sparring blood brothers and a poignant love story form the essence of Sergei Bodrov's spectacular epic, among whose achievements are its extraordinary sense of place and time. Meticulously researched, this exploration of the background of legendary 12th century Mongol warrior Genghis Khan focuses on aspects of his life that history books fail to reveal. Perhaps most surprising is the relationship between the Khan (formerly known as Temudgin) and the bride he chooses for himself, aged nine, which influences his entire life. With its stand-out music score comprising an explosive combo of musical styles, Mongol never fails to be fascinating, if occasionally frustrating, as it cinematically opens a window into the traditions, culture and faith of a mostly unknown time and place.
Bodrov (with co-writer Arif Aliyev) have structured an accessible screenplay that establishes our connection with the characters when we meet them in their early years. This is the most successful part of the storytelling: later aspects are scant and incomplete. First, the young Temudgin is schooled in the art of choosing a wife by his father. There are specific instructions including the desirability of narrow eyes ('evil spirits dive into wide eyes') and strong legs ('strong legs make a man happy'), and the nine year old has no hesitation in selecting the outspoken Borte, although she later reveals the selection was in fact the other way around. Emphasis is also placed on the strong bond formed between Temudgin and his blood brother Jamukha, who eventually becomes his bitter rival and enemy. Life is as tough as the times, as we journey with the young boy who becomes fatherless, enslaved and imprisoned.
Japanese actor Tadanobu Asano centres the action as the adult Temudgin, displaying much of his emotions through his eyes. Khulan Chuluun (who photographs like a dream) is lovely as Borte while Honglei Sun is a fine contrast as the revengeful Jamukha. This is a film of contrasts - visually and emotionally. Cinematically there are arid deserts, grassy plains, rugged mountains, while matters of the heart are playful, sensual and moving. As expected, the battle scenes show all the signs of the barbaric culture of the day with explicit violence. But it is the heart of the man who would be Khan that remains with us, as a man with vision, tolerance and wisdom, and one who recognizes the difference between his brother and his enemy.
Review by Andrew L. Urban:
Sergei Bodrov's instincts and his interest in the story of how Temudgin became the legendary Genghis Khan are spot on. The ghosts of history that produced such a huge figure deserve to be taken out and lit up in the light of modern cinema. The work largely relies on an ancient poem written soon after the death of Temudgin, who became known as Genghis Khan. That work is not exactly historically disciplined, hence the story is patchy. But Bodrov makes things worse by some narrative jumps that leave us bewildered and asking too many questions. What happened there ... how did he do that ... why did he do that ...?
These jumps undercut what otherwise is a splendid, haunting work, offering stunning vistas ranging from desert to steppe to snow covered landscapes, twisting rivers and vast, mysterious rock formations. Newcomer Khulan Chuluun is striking as the beautiful Borta, and her characterisation is marvellous; she is feminine, determined and naturally wise. The casting of Japanese actor Tadanobu Asano is less successful, and not just because of his obvious racial characteristics; his characterisation seems under powered.
But the key supports are all terrific, notably Honglei Sun (another Japanese actor) as Jamukha, whose journey takes him from blood brother to deadly enemy. This important relationship is not well charted by Bodrov, nor are many other aspects of the story. It feels as if too much screen time is devoted to the early chapters of Temudgin's life, so later events and developments have to be truncated or omitted.
Bloody clashes of Mongol armies and smaller confrontations are all well choreographed and shot, and the production design is splendid, as is the music. But the storytelling needs a polish.
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CAST: Tabanobu Asano, Honglei Sun, Khulan Chuluun, Odnayam Odsuren, Amarbold Tuvinbayar, Bayartsetseg Erdenabat, Amadu Mamadakov, Ba Sen, Bu Ren
PRODUCER: Sergey Selyanov, Sergei Bodrov, Anton Melnik
DIRECTOR: Sergei Bodrov
SCRIPT: Arif Aliyev, Sergei Bodrov
CINEMATOGRAPHER: Rogier Stoffers, Sergei Trofimov
EDITOR: Valdis Oskarsdottir, Zach Staenberg
MUSIC: Tuomas Kantelinen
PRODUCTION DESIGN: Dashi Namakadov
RUNNING TIME: 124 minutes
AUSTRALIAN DISTRIBUTOR: Hopscotch
AUSTRALIAN RELEASE: June 5, 2008