This is the kind of movie you have to want to see; I wouldn’t recommend this as a lazy Sunday cable viewing. If the rise of Genghis Khan from a child to his first step in uniting the Mongols doesn’t interest you, this may be a lot like Troy or a ’60s historical epic for you; the characters are interesting but a little remote.
I loved it- it sets out what it seeks to do; to bring the story of the infamous Genghis Khan to the screen, in the first of three ambitious films. This one is just 2 hours long, so it won’t challenge your bladder or attention span. We meet young Temüjin as his father goes to speak with another khan. The boy is supposed to marry the daughter of a rival, but when he meets another young girl, he chooses her. His father agrees with it, and there doesn’t seem to be any anger… but he is poisoned and betrayed. His lands are stolen, and the boy is hunted down, and must live on the steppes. His father’s killer can’t kill the child, so he is enslaved until he’s old enough to kill; but he escapes, and plots his own rise to power.
He collapses in the snow, but is found by another boy named Jamukha; they become blood brothers, and allies. Temüjin’s ingenious tactics and natural leadership are visible from an early age; he shares the wealth with his men more equally, and takes a deep interest in protecting not just his own family, but theirs as well. His strategy in defeating superior numbers and tired tactics is made evident without drilling it into our skulls.
As he grows in power, he seeks out the girl he chose- Börte- and they are wed. The love story is sweet and realistic, without taking over the tale. Her spirit is strong, and you immediately know why he fights for her. She gets captured by other rival whose wife was stolen by Temüjin’s father, and he has to go to his blood brother Jamukha for help. Together, they defeat the Merkin tribe and Temüjin’s prowess and sense of fairness to his men becomes knwon; The minions of allies soon flock to him, and he accepts them, causing strife; but he says he can’t tell a man who to follow.
This leads to the final confrontation in the film, with his blood brother. As they clash, instead of killing Temüjin, he sells him into slavery. He is dragged to a city and jailed, meant to be death for the Mongols of the open steppes. But Temüjin survives through his iron will and desire to see his wife again. He manages to communicate with her using go-betweens, and it keeps him going. When a priest sees the cold fire in his eyes, he asks that his shrine be spared, when the Mongol returns to raze the city.
The time in the cell was Temüjin’s vision quest, and knows he wants to unite the Mongols under his basic laws:
Mongols need laws.
I’ll teach them even if I have to kill half of them.
Our laws will be simple:
Don’t kill women or children;
Don’t forget your debts;
Fight enemies till the end;
and never betray your khan.
Börte proves her pluck by breaking him out of jail by paying off the guard- and brings him home to get his revenge on Jamukha, and unite the clans. The battles are unfortunately a little too realistic in how anonymous the fighting is; we only know a few of the participants, so the emotional involvement isn’t as high as it should be. They are exciting and bloody, with some forgivable CG blood- they only had a $20 million budget, filmed only in Mongolia, and had huge herds of extras- s the fights look good. He becomes legendary; he survived being caged, and he wins his final battle by having it during a storm, something all Mongols feared. While his enemies flee, he stands tall on his horse during the lightning storm, and his own men rally.
Mongol is a worthy epic, and I eagerly await the next installments. With the stark beauty of Mongolia as its backdrop, fine actors, a straightforward yet gripping story, and exciting battles, this is one history lesson you’ll enjoy learning. It’s been compared to Braveheart but I think it’s a bit less melodramatic, and I like that movie a lot.