Directed by Sergei Bodrov


June 2008


Reviewed by Steven H Silver

If you only know about Genghis Khan through half remembered stories of a barbarian chieftain, conflating him with Attila the Hun, Conan the Cimmerian, and other barbarian chieftains throughout history (and fiction), you might be excused for thinking that Sergei Bodrov's film Mongol, which is a look at his rise from a young boy named Temujin >to a warlord called Genghis Khan takes liberties with his story in an attempt to make a vicious killer out to be a more sympathetic human being. However, Mongol stays quite close to its source, the thirteenth century The Secret History of the Mongols, compiled by an unknown Uighur monk in the decades following Genghis Khan's death.>

In the film, as in the history, Temujin is portrayed as a man driven by two motivations. The first, and stronger one, is the need for vengeance against those who have wronged him, whether a real or imagined slight. He has plenty of cause to seek vengeance, for his father's murder, for his own sale into slavery, for the treatment of his first wife, Borte, and more. His need for vengeance isn't even necessarily an egotistical thing. It is simply what must be done. The second motivation is born from the first. He seeks his own security, and safety for his family and those who look to him for safety. He is a khan, a warlord, and owes as much a debt to those who follow him as they owe to him.>

Tadanobu Asano does an excellent job in his portrayal of Temujin in a sympathetic manner. His face, which seems almost expressionless at first, actually if very good at showing a character who can be contemplative, serene, or murderous as the need arises. His interactions with Honglei Sun, who portrays Temujin's anda, or blood brother, Jamuya are excellent, although Sun, with his more active portrayal manages to steal most of the scenes the two men have together. Eventually Jamuya and Temujin have a falling out and Jamuya allies himself with Temujin's sworn enemy, Taryutai (Amadu Mamadakov). Set up as a primary villain in the first half of the film, Taryutai winds up playing a second banana to Jamuya in the second half.

The other strong character in the film is Temujin's wife, Borte (Khulan Chuluun). From the moment the two meet as youngsters (portrayed by Odnyam Odsuren and Bayertsetseg Erdenebat, who give fine portrayals of their own which mirror the adults), the viewer knows that no matter how powerful Temujin becomes, Borte will always be able to exert her will over him. Bodrov and Chuluun demonstrate that Borte's power is not based on sexual attraction, for they show her as a strong figure in every situation in which she finds herself. In the end, and based in large part on the scene in which she rescues Temujin from prison, she demonstrates that she and Temujin are soul mates.

Thefilm does fail in one major area, but it is a failure it shares with The Secret History of the Mongols. In both works, Temujin is shown, alternately as being completely alone and being surrounded by warriors who are loyal to him. In the film this is handled with title cards which indicate that several years have passed, allowing Temujin the time to unite some of the Mongol tribes under him and forge alliances, but the fact that Bodrov chose not to show those events is telling and makes the viewer wonder how a Temujin who was a slave separated from all he held dear could lead an army and again be friendless and in prison. Temujin is shown as being driven, but more details would have helped make his story more understandable.

Mongol is slated to be the first film of a trilogy that follows the life of Genghis Khan, and it covers the period from about 1171, when he was nine years old, until 1206, when he had managed to unite most of the tribes of Mongolia and be proclaimed Genghis Khan. The second film, provisionally titled The Great Khan, is currently in pre-production and is scheduled to be released in 2010 and presumably will examine Genghis Khan's imposition of his law on the disparate tribes and his expansion of his realm, again as he tries to wreak vengeance on those who have acted traitorously towards him or his family.

Purchase this movie on DVD from Amazon Books.

Purchase this movie on Blue Ray from Amazon Books.

Return to