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Review: 'Mongol' Looks At The Early Years of Genghis Kahn

May 27th, 2008 9:54am EDT
Mongol: The Early Years of Genghis KhanMongol, the epic story of Genghis Kahn, has taken a long journey much like its mytho-historical subject. Conceptualized long ago in the early schooling of Russian director Sergei Bodrov, perfected in the mountains of China, cast over the span of three continents, and filmed in the hills of Kazakhstan- it is truly a global film. As for its victories in battle, it has achieved positive strikes in many film festivals, winning the Asian Film Award and the Golden Eagle award of Russia, and was this past year nominated for best foreign film at the Academy Awards. That has earned Mongol, at long last, distribution in the United States (limited release on June 6th).

MongolAs for the film, it captures the mythological mysticism and historical glory of the great Kahn himself. It effectively and masterfully rebirths the Mongol world of ancient Asia, and all the while it takes a myth and makes it a man. The film is much less about Genghis Kahn, and much more about Temudgin - as he is known in his youth. The young warrior is faced with many tasks: choosing a bride at age nine, surviving his father's death and the overthrowing of his family, and dealing with his exile, several imprisonments, many bloody battles, etc. All the while, he must continuously find his way back to a love who is perhaps deadlier than her husband.

She knows what she has to do in a harsh world, mothering children that are not her husband's while he is in constant exile. It is simply a survival technique, but when Termudgin returns for her, as he always does, she is always quick to slit the throat of whatever man she is with and return to her true love.

Ok, so it isn't your traditional love story, but this is part of the intrigue of Mongol. Much has to be chalked up to different customs and times, but also to two unique people in the history of human relationships.

Since the film takes on a story with many holes that spans an entire epic lifetime, there are often liberties taken, but these are not much of an issue. Few are around to argue whether Kahn really served as a slave for ten years of his life or if he was just on a farm enjoying a little peace. Much more of a disappointment are the times when the film neglects to speculate at all. Sometimes it is apparent that Kahn simply had some help from the gods, and that is why he was able to escape here or gather an army there, but often there is just a huge lapse in time in which everything changes for the character, yet we see nothing. In these moments, it would help to have one of the two narrators, a voice over or scrolling text, explain the gap. These dueling narrators, used at annoyingly unnecessary and repetitive times, are absent in the films largest gaps. Perhaps the film was running long, but a few more scenes to explain the large jumps in plot wouldn't hurt; especially in leu of several up close shots of him not enjoying prison.


So, those who sit through the entire movie eager to see how it will all culminate, with Temudgin becoming Kahn and conquering all of Asia, will be a little disappointed. The great ending is, like many of these timeline gaps, thrown together hastily, almost as an afterthought. However, that really wasn't the point. Mongol isn't a story about world conquest, it is the story of a beaten cub that grows to be a fierce tiger. That story, set against the vast and bloody fields of ancient China, is breathless reason enough to take the journey.

James Fagan
Story by James Fagan
Starpulse.com contributing writer


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