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“You can’t cook two ram’s heads in one pot, Temudgin” ~ Borte
Set in 1192, Mongol tells the tale of the Mongolian Steppe and the rise of Temüjin, who would later become Genghis Khan, one of the most feared and respected warriors of the medieval world.
The story starts with a young Temüjin selecting a Merkit wife under his father’s watchful gaze while he is still a boy. After seeing his father poisoned and facing constant death threats from his father’s former men, he befriends Jamukha, who becomes his blood brother and saves him…and so we begin the life of Genghis Khan. This is his Wiki page come to life folks.
The rest of the story centres around these three characters: Temüjin, his wife Borte and his blood brother Jamukha. Temüjin, played by Japanese native Tadanobu Asano (Thor, Battleship) is an interesting character and I enjoyed Asano’s vision of Genghis. Jamukha, played by Sun Honglei (Seven Swords, Blood Brothers), is equally enjoyable and provides some of the comic relief in the movie, along with a great dynamic between the two best friends/blood brothers. Borte, played by newcomer Mongolian actress Khulan Chuluun gives one of the best performances of the movie considering this was her first role after being plucked off the streets of Ulaanbaatar two weeks before filming began! The entire movie is in Mongolian and was filmed in China, Mongolia and Kazakhstan.
“You didn’t say goodbye to me” ~ Jamukha
“You were sleeping, brother” ~ Temudgin
And that quote in a nutshell, sums up this movie…
So…the acting is good, and the scenery? Breath-taking. The story? It’s Genghis Khan – how can it not be great?! So after all that…why did I dislike this movie? One word: BORING. The movie didn’t grab me and it didn’t make me care about the characters in a way where I found them engaging. I love a good foreign film; they often draw me in and the writing and acting is usually leaps and bounds above the Hollywood norm, however, even great acting couldn’t save this film for me. There were parts where it was just disjointed and hard to follow. I wasn’t quite sure what was going on in certain parts and what was going on wasn’t interesting enough for me to rewind the scene to figure it out. It just couldn’t keep my attention on the screen and I really, REALLY wanted to like this film. It sounded like it was going to be so much more exciting than what it was – it was just disappointing. The movie is critically acclaimed, so I’m obviously missing something here but no amount of high brow accolades could get me to sit through this again. I didn’t come into it expecting non-stop blood and guts either. I did expect dialogue and some poignant scenes since this was a retelling of Genghis Khan’s life, but it was just bland and blah for me the whole way through. There were some great moments – there is a scene between Genghis Khan and a Tangut monk that I really enjoyed. I also really liked Borte’s character. For a complete unknown to come in and give such a strong performance was impressive to say the least. She can out act many Hollywood actresses. Sadly although their love story is a sort of attempt at the Golden Horde version of “The Notebook”, it lacks any chemistry. The connection between the two isn’t very believable although individually, they are both fantastic actors. This film also presents a look at Mongol life on the Steppes and their customs and beliefs – that stuff is definitely worth watching.
My issue was the way this movie was put together, it just seemed sloppy and too slow. Lastly, and I have to say it…Peter, who happens to be very interested/ well versed in all things Mongol fell asleep during the movie and I had to prod him to stay awake during the final 20 minutes. When someone can’t keep their eyes open to watch a movie on one of their favourite topics, you know something is amiss. It was missing a better pace and story editing. If you’re looking to watch this – make sure you’re a huge fan of Genghis Khan/Mongols otherwise, skip it, it’s just not that good. I was amazed because Genghis Khan’s story seems like something you couldn’t possibly make boring but here I am telling you it was exactly that – boring.
Peter’s Take: I had gone into this movie with high hopes – the Mongols are a favourite subject of mine, and the story of the rise of Genghis Khan is something that could translate into an epic film. While Mongol takes advantage of the magnificent views of the Great Steppe, it doesn’t deliver on giving a a story to match.
The tale of Temüjin is mostly of being humiliated, captured and hiding from his enemies. He gains a few victories, but it seems that half the time he is on screen he is a prisoner. Instead of coming across as a great leader, Temüjin is portrayed as a talented warrior who is barely struggling to survive.
There are a few battle scenes, but they also seem small – no Mongol hordes of thousands are here. The film’s budget may have restricted what could be shown, and since the filmmaker is planning a trilogy, he may have been thinking of holding off an any grander scenes until the next installment.
As Sandra correctly points out, I found myself disinterested in the film after the first forty minutes, and, by the time the larger battles are being shown near the end of the movie, I was struggling to keep awake. It turned out to be a disappointing experience for me.
As for historical accuracy, the film makes use of the Secret History of the Mongols to set the story, but it needs to embellish the script somewhat. The role of Borte is exaggerated somewhat, which is understandable as the story of her abduction and rescue is one of the most interesting parts of Temüjin’s early life.
One scene that was left out is how Temüjin killed his half-brother, Behter, when he was only ten years old. While such a scene may have horrified modern audiences, it could also have been an effective way of showing what a ruthless and powerful character that Temüjin would become.