Culture > Movies

Wrath of a khan

Movies | Bloody Mongol nonetheless humanizes its subjects

Issue: "Unify and conquer," June 14, 2008

Epic movies about warlords and conquerors abound-Alexander, Braveheart, Troy-and many veer into historical inaccuracy, sensationalized violence, or explicit sexuality in order to draw in the audience. Thankfully, Mongol (rated R for sequences of bloody warfare), about the early life of Genghis Khan, is a more skillfully constructed and historically accurate contribution to the genre.

After 9-year-old Temudjin loses his father, a khan (tribal leader), he must run from his enemy, who wants to kill him and become khan. Spending his youth alternately as a slave or a fugitive, Temudjin develops acumen, stamina, and sensitivity. As Temudjin grows toward manhood, he is forced to make decisions about what a scattered people needs to become a mighty nation. But it is his wife, Borte, who provides his reason for living.

Mongol garnered the first Best Foreign Language Film Academy Award nomination for Kazakhstan, and the second for Russian director Sergei Bodrov. Shot on location in China, Kazakhstan, and Russia, this is the kind of film that movie theaters were made for-visually lush, filled with stunning landscapes and stark battlefields.

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Be warned: This is a story about brutal conflict. The careful choreography of balletic battle scenes, along with the realistic sprays of blood, recall Asian martial arts films and battle epics such as 300. The screenplay itself-mostly in Mongolian-is based on research and scholarly accounts and is planned to be first in a trilogy about the life of Genghis Khan.

As such, the writers could afford to take time with characters, infusing them with humanizing touches-a held hand, a child's laughter, a song around a campfire. Though there are scenes that seem to provide too little information-likely where there exist few known facts and much mythology-the compelling story is built on Borte and Temudjin's love.


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