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Review by Rick Warner
July 29 (Bloomberg) — Genghis Khan never looked so good.
The feared ruler whose name is synonymous with savagery gets a radical makeover in “Mongol,” a breathtaking adventure epic about the formative years of the man who created the largest empire in history.
Sergei Bodrov’s film portrays Khan, born as Temujin in 1162, as a courageous, beneficent warrior who protected women and children, loved his family and even spared one of his worst enemies. While not exactly Mister Rogers, the Khan we see is a far cry from the conqueror widely regarded as a ruthless mass murderer.
The lack of contemporary accounts has led to much speculation and contradictory versions of Khan’s life. But his PR agent would surely be delighted with “Mongol,” which covers the period leading up to his consolidation of the warring Mongol tribes and his crowning as Genghis Khan (universal ruler) in 1206.
Granted, there are enough gory battles to satisfy even the most bloodthirsty filmgoer: Eviscerations and decapitations are as commonplace as fur hats, scraggly beards and charging horses. But the heart of the movie is the love story between Khan and his first wife, Borte. Khan selected Borte as his future wife when he was 9 years old, and their relationship survived long separations, including Khan’s enslavement at the hands of his blood brother, Jamuka.
Filmed in remote regions of China, Mongolia and Kazakhstan that were once part of the Mongolian Empire, the movie features spectacular vistas of desert, mountains and plains shot by cinematographers Rogier Stoffers and Sergey Trofimov. The feeling of isolation is sometimes so profound that you might as well be looking at the moon.
The superb international cast includes Japan’s Tadanobu Asano as the adult Khan, China’s Honglei Sun as Jamuka and Mongolia’s Khulan Chuluun as Borte. More than 1,000 extras, all Mongolians, were used for the sweeping battle scenes, including the climactic showdown between the rival armies of Khan and Jamuka.
“Mongol” was planned as the first part of a trilogy about Khan’s life. Still to come are the conquests that spread his empire across Asia, his growing harem, his establishment of a civilian and military code, and his death in 1227 from (take your pick) falling off a horse or pneumonia.
I can’t wait.
“Mongol,” from Picturehouse, is playing across the U.S. Mongolian, with English subtitles. Rating: ***1/2
What the Stars Mean:
(No stars) Worthless
(Rick Warner is the movie critic for Bloomberg News. The opinions expressed are his own.)