World Conqueror (Mongol)
Enter Genghis Khan
Mongol is the first in Russian director Sergei Bodrov’s trilogy on Genghis Khan. It’s the origin story: The 9-year-old boy witnesses his father poisoned by enemies, his family’s herds run off, his tribe’s leadership usurped by a traitor and his betrothed ravished by rivals. In those years the boy went by his given name, Temudgin. By the end of the film he assumed the title of Genghis Khan, “Great Chief,” after unifying the Mongol hordes on the field of battle.
rough but beautiful setting of Temudgin’s vengeance quest is reminiscent of
John Ford’s saga, The Searchers. In
that Western classic, John Wayne’s obsessive anti-hero rides the frontier to
avenge his family’s honor. In Mongol,
the stakes are higher. After tracking and killing everyone who ever harmed him
or his kinfolk, Temudgin is positioned to lead
The adult Temudgin, played with the intense stillness of a Zen warrior by Tadanobu Asano, exudes dangerous but focused manly prowess. Let lesser chieftains fly into berserker rage; Temudgin bides his time, perceives the weakness of his enemies, wins by strategy as much as bravery. The many battle scenes are highly stylized showers of blood, suggesting the influence of Soviet director Sergei Eisenstein along with more recent martial arts extravaganzas.
Genghis Khan understood himself as a man of destiny, and Mongol surrounds Temudgin in a mystic web of the miraculous; the young warrior is the junction of a network of purpose and pattern behind seemingly disparate events. He is not a kind man, although he is humanized by devotion for his wife, Borte (Khulan Chuluun), whom he rescues and who later rescues him in return. Temudgin fashioned himself as a lawgiver, bringing justice and order to the savage frontier on the outskirts of civilization.The ethnography feels correct, including the costumes of warriors and their wives, the feathered garb of the shamans. But Mongol isn’t merely a dramatized documentary. Bodrov’s devotion to plausible detail is swept along by magnificent cinematography in a compelling epic of treachery and heroism, fidelity and love.