Monday, July 07, 2008


I didn't know much about Mongol going into it. I was looking for a movie to watch, and I'd seen everything that I really wanted to. I did a quick search to see Ebert's opinion about the movie. It's an odd review. He gives the movie a high score, but then talks about how the movie is basically just one scene of brutal violence after another. In his words, the Mongols in this movie "do not sing, dance, chant, hold summit meetings, have courts, hunt, or (with one exception) even cook and eat." I had this in the back of my mind while watching Mongol. So I was surprised to see singing, and a fair amount of eating. And there are long stretches between action scenes. Ebert had me half expecting the movie to be one endless action scene, with the young man who would be Genghis Khan slashing his way across the screen (and Asia) for two hours. Fortunately there is more to this movie than the sum of its severed body parts.

Mongol is apparently the first in a trilogy about Genghis Khan. It covers the early part of his life as the son of a Khan, up to his thirties when he becomes the dominant Khan of all Mongols. He spends much of his time in between being captured, escaping capture, and trying to reunite with his wife (who has the awkward luck of being impregnated twice while they are separated). It's not an easy life for either of them, and it's easy to see how the young man from a humble background becomes angry enough to become Genghis Khan. But that won't happen until one of the later films. He's known by his birth name, Temudgin, for all of this one.

The movie hits the major historical points, glossing over the smaller details. Temudgin has a gift for escaping armed camps, or assembling large armies, off screen. Mongol takes it's time with the moments it chooses to focus on, then suddenly years will go by. But the story is captivating, and the action is impressively staged. Nothing is groundbreaking about the battles, but they are shot spectacularly well. As is the rest of the movie. There is a seemingly endless series of vast rolling environments of all varieties. It's a beautiful movie to watch.

The performances are solid. I know nothing about the actors, whether or not they've done anything previously. Both the lead and the woman who plays his wife are excellent. The standout for me was the man who played Temudgin's blood brother (and eventual adversary), Jamukha. He plays him with a kind of modern swagger which nicely offsets the stoic nature of the rest of the film.

I highly recommend this to anyone who enjoys historical epics. I look forward to the next two films. Hopefully they won't be too long in coming. I can't wait to see Temudjin in full Genghis mode.


Zhubin said...

That would be awesome if the movie was just Genghis Khan just slashing his way through a motley of various wars.

I'll check out the movie on your review. Also, if you want to read about Khan's life and his legacy, there's a great book called Genghis Khan and the Making of the Modern World, by Jack Weatherford. It came out pretty recently, really interesting.

Zhubin said...

Also, by "various wars" I meant just the ones he actually fought, but it would be even better if the movie was two hours of him just showing up suddenly at different wars throughout history and joining in the battles.

Scott said...

I'll have to check out that book. This movie gives a nice introduction, but it left me wanting more. It will be interesting to see how the entire trilogy comes together.

The thought of Genghis being transposed into the world's great wars reminded me of that scene that came out of one of our Running With Scissors rehearsals. Remember the guy with the time machine that only takes him places where great historical tragedies are about to occur?

BG said...

Going into it I told Scott that I had read it was supposed to be the 300 of Mongol movies. It had its graphic moments, but nothing was overly done. The final battle at the end felt a little bit rushed, but it was more of a religious nod than an actual fight.

The religious aspects of the movie were particularly interesting sequences because of the almost mythical way the events turned out. The acting in the movie really was fantastic, and even these scenes felt very real and believable. This added a certain ambiance to Temudgin rise to Khan.