10 June 2022

52 for '22: MONGOL

MovieMongol (2007)
Method: Netflix DVD

I get a little bit Genghis Khan...

Why Did I watch this?

This was another film burning a hole in my DVD queue for ages. I really need to remember to check when I added these. Anyway, I have no idea how this got on my radar. I have had a passing interest in Genghis Khan for a while, I read a bio of him about twenty years ago. Always a soft spot in my heart. This film got acclaim when it came out, but always felt under the radar. Like, why was there this big epic Genghis Khan movie that no one ever talks about?

What Did I know ahead of time?

It was about Genghis Khan. That's really about it. I knew it was a mid-2000s foreign film, although I honestly didn't even know which country had actually produced it before watching it. I had no idea what the scope was and if I was getting geared up for some really audacious rape and conquering scenes or a quieter, more contemplative Khan.

How Was It?

This is pretty decent. Now, for the record right here, this is definitely the Bohemian Rhapsody (2018) version of a Genghis Khan movie - it is wiped of all horror and rape and paints him as a noble, almost Hamlet-esque would-be king. Apparently this was intended to be the first in a trilogy of films that chronicled his life, so the biggest land empire in history comes later. I appreciate that they didn't try to condense his entire life into one film, it succeeds way better focusing on a handful of early events, but also, this film needs a big asterisk.

Apparently Temujin is a national hero in Mongolia. Fine, that's fair, if my country produced Genghis Khan I'd be into it as well. But there's a weird bit where the producers were afraid to insult Mongolia, but they were insulted anyway so not allowed to film there? It was directed by Sergei Bodrov and filmed mostly in China, starring a Japanese actor as Genghis Khan. It just doesn't seem that Mongolian. Almost every other actor is a native Mongolian, so that's cool, but it's real, real weird to see Asano Tadanobu in the lead role. Like...did this Asian movie go with generic Asian? 2007 really was a different time, huh?

Tadanobu is fine, he's stoic and a little big aloof, but his values are clearly communicated. And yeah, Genghis Khan has crystal clear, perfect values of leadership and honor. Listen, I know that Temujin did treat his people well, that's one reason why he was so successful, but again, they really evade the bloodthirsty conquerer part. His brother and subsequently main antagonist, played by Chinese actor Sun Honglei is much more dynamic, but also has this vengeful side that pops out. And lastly, Borte played by Chuluuny Khulan doesn't have too much to do other than fawn over Genghis Khan. She was definitely raped by the Merkits, right?

Apparently Tadanobu's casting comes from a Japanese legend that Khan was really a Japanese general. I get that that's fun, but it does seem like it's copping to an obscure side claim while ignoring the main people this is made for. It's starting to add up why this wasn't all that big in Mongolia, right?

The effects are decent, and the battle scenes, while none are all that big (hard watching this after Baahubali [2015]), they are intimate enough to convey the smaller battles between opposing Mongolian warlords. It's a very outdoors movie and the costumes and sets are spot on. It feels super immersive. Having said that, it's shot super standardly without much real flair or interesting shots. That's not always a bad thing, everything is framed really well and the vistas are impressive, but it doesn't stand out all that well.

Generally I enjoyed it, I don't want to knock it too bad, but I'm not sure it's the epic end all Genghis Khan movie we've always wanted. Now, that should have changed with two additional films. The sequel is apparently in the works, but who knows. It's been fifteen years!

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