Over eight hundred years after his reign, the name "Genghis Kahn" still inspires awe. Often stereotyped as a thoughtless savage, one could not unite the clans of Mongolians and rule one half the world without some intelligence. Written and directed by Russian filmmaker Sergei Bodrov, "Mongol" is a motion picture that looks at the formative years of Temudjin, a slave boy who became the Genghis Kahn. A visual narrative with dialog spoken in English subtitles, "Mongol" has an epic feeling worthy of Virgil's "The Aeneid" or a John Wayne western.
The film opens with a closeup of the sickly and imprisoned Temudjin (Tadanobu Asano). He is a political prisoner who is put on display. As he ponders his past, Temudjin reflects upon the life lessons that his father taught him about enemies, warfare, honor and picking a good woman by the shape of her legs. In a flashback, the ten year old Genghis Kahn-to-be courts and woos a young woman, who eventually becomes his wife.
Through Darwinist treachery, Temudjin becomes an orphan slave to his father's enemy. Not wanting to slaughter a child, the enemy fattens up his meek lamb for slaughter. The boy escapes to a rival clan and becomes blood brothers with Jamukha (Honglei Sun).
Temudjin growth into the Genghis Kahn follows the similar path of warrior heroes like William Wallace ("Braveheart") and Salvatore Giuliano ("The Sicilian"). He is orphaned young, the love of his life is endangered or killed, he loses more battles in his youth - but learns life lessons from each defeat. Unlike his rivals who seem to take sadistic joy over their conquests, Temudjin approaches killing as means to an end. Temudjin's goal in not power nor conquest, but the survival of his family, his people and his self. "Mongol" is a patriotic lesson for the people who live east of the Ural Mountains.
"Mongol" creates epic storytelling on the big screen. Lacking the budget of "Iron Man," "Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Chrystal Skull," or "The Hulk," this Eurasian production's action sequences are filmed the old fashioned way; with stunt people and daring camera angles. The computer enhanced technology (CGI) is mostly used in sequences involving horses in combat. There is a sense of danger in these action sequences that both glorify Genghis Kahn and demystify the legend at the same time. After slicing the femoral artery of his enemy, one will not forget the image of the warrior showered in blood.
"Mongol" is clearly influenced by works of movie legends Akira Kurosawa and John Ford. From Kurosawa, there is the cinematographic pallet and light and colors. From Ford, the landscape and scenery is presented as a living character. Both Ford and Kurosawa were visual storytellers and Bodrov was wise enough to stand on the shoulders of these cinematic giants.
The subtitles may detract people from seeing this motion picture. That is too bad because "Mongol" is a cinematic experience that should be seen on the big screen. Nominated for best foreign language movie by the Academy Awards, **Mongol** is one best movies on the big screen opening this weekend.