TOUGH GUY LIVES TOUGH LIFE DURING TOUGH TIMES IN A TOUGH FILM
by John Topping
published June 6, 2008
now playing in select theaters
Mongol was one of the five
entries for Best Foreign Language Film in the most recent Academy Awards ceremony, losing to The Counterfeiters. I’m here to tell you that the better film
I went to see Mongol under my absolute favorite circumstances to see a
film: I knew nothing whatsoever about it in advance. Consequently, I did not know until the end of the film that I was watching the story of Genghis Kahn,
although, as a history-challenged person, it would not have made much of a difference. And I
also question how much I actually learned.
Here’s the story: Temudgin (the birth name of Genghis Kahn), at a very young age,
travels with his father so that he can choose his future bride, whom he’ll marry several years in the future. Instead, Borte, his future bride, chooses him. On the way
back home, his father is poisoned by a rival tribe, which renders Temudgin the Kahn (ruler) of his tribe – except that his tribe abandons
him upon his return because, hey, he’s just a kid. From here, it is mostly a series of large,
medium and small battles. He gets enslaved, escapes, seeks revenge, grows up, gets enslaved again, seeks revenge again – I kind of lost
count of how many times this happened.
The film features lots of way-cool blood splattering. Many are the swords that get
smashed in someone’s face or chest or other body part, and rarely do you not get to see the blood spurt out in sizeable
globules. However, so in love is the director with this bloody special effect that, by the end
of the film, I found myself saying, “Hey, that’s the exact same pattern of blood splattering as when someone else got a sword lodged in his
History scholars will certainly nod in concurrence that this guy was quite a decent fellow, oh so honorable, if a bit
misunderstood, and just really nice, even if a tad too much on the tough and brooding side. Kind of a maverick, you know? All he wants is what’s
rightfully his. He’s had a spell of bad luck and has gotten burned, and he’s simply not going
to take it. I don’t get all these rumors that he was a ruthless tyrant. Still, there was one problem: I really didn’t care about
him. Not to mention that Jamukha, a character who turns from blood brother into mortal enemy,
seemed totally justified in getting peeved enough to turn on him.
For what it is, Mongol is extremely well-made. It’s beautifully shot and epic
in scope, well-directed and acted. We would never have known from watching Borat that
Kazakhstan has cinematic sophistication equal to America’s. And as the first of a projected trilogy
about the life of Genghis Kahn, it is already easy to imagine that, similar to the Lord of the Rings
trilogy, Sergei Bodrov will not get his Oscar for Best Foreign Language Film until the third outing, as a sort of all-encompassing
congratulations for all the hard work. (And, presumably, we’ll find out where the name “Genghis”
comes from in Part II?)
Hopefully you will be able to tell from this review if the movie is for you or not.
But if it wasn’t clear, know right now that’s it’s not a chick flick, for better or worse. A
friend at the screening, who I’m sure will not mind representing the entire female population, left a voicemail message later that
evening: “I didn’t get a chance to talk to you afterwards, but I just had to call to tell
you: I hated it. HATED it. It was SO long and boring.” (120 grueling minutes, for the
record.) You might have better luck if you are among the rare breed of heterosexual males who
both like violent action films and don’t mind reading subtitles.
johntopping @ stageandcinema.com