“A man has to choose his wife,” says the father to his 9-year old boy. It’s 1172, and contrary to his father’s wishes, the boy, Temudgin, chooses Borte, a cute, feisty, determined 11-year-old.
The father respects his son’s wishes, but before the child turns into the man who will one day retrieve his intended, the father is poisoned by members of a rival tribe, leaving Temudgin to fend for himself.
By the time the movie is over, he has been abducted, thrice, sold into slavery, and united on and off with Borte, his source of love and strength. This man is destined to be a warrior leader, and before “Mongol” ends, we will witness the rise of a brave soul who imbues his people with pride by ordering and enforcing a code of ethics.
One day, Temudgin will be known as Genghis Khan.
Sergei Bodrov’s epiclike film promises to be the first part of a trilogy based on the life of the leader who not only conquered most of Asia but united rival, nomadic tribes with codes of law. One edict is not abducting or killing women and children, perhaps a rule inspired by his sufferings and that of his wife.
The movie belies the notions of those who assumed Genghis Khan could be pigeonholed as a notorious dictator who slaughtered thousands or beat them into submission. Instead, we are presented with a decent man who was not only a born leader but one who established law, order and justice.
A good deal of “Mongol” smacks us with the stuff of an old-fashioned movie adventure. If it is at times a bit tedious or too sweeping in its scope, it is often a rich narrative that allows us to reflect on the birth of a leader as well as what lies behind the making of an empire and the establishment of law. In a time in which warring tribal factions in the Middle East still threaten not only regional stability but world peace, “Mongol” may serve as a primer, reminding us that a nation without laws and a strong, unifying leader cannot stand.
As depicted here, the man who will be supreme Khan derives his rules not from books but from hard experience. From my limited knowledge of Genghis Khan, it’s clear not all corners of history are covered, but this story of “the supreme warrior” proves to be a compelling and enticing history lesson even for those who find history boring. For students, it is certainly a terrific way to develop an appetite for learning about a cultural past. As the film ends, it is also clear that there is plenty of room for at least another movie covering the making of Khan’s empire, for what we get here is essentially the birth of a leader.
The battle scenes are impressive, and in at least one instance, you may note a parallel between “Mongol” and “Godfather II.” This occurs when the tribal leader vows to kill the son of the man he poisoned, for as Temudgin’s mother predicts, her son will one day avenge his father’s murder. There are also obvious parallels with Mel Gibson’s “Braveheart.”
As the central character, Japanese actor Tadanobu Asano delivers a strong, gritty performance, while Honglei Sun and Khulan Chuluun are excellent as Temudgin’s “brother,” and wife, respectively.
“Mongol” was nominated for a Best Foreign Film Oscar.
DIRECTED BY Sergei Bodrov
SCREENPLAY BY Sergei Bodrov and Arif Aliyev
STARRING Tadanobu Asano, Honglei Sun, Khulan Chuluun, Odnyam Odsuren and Amadu Mamadakov
RUNNING TIME: 124 minutes