The story of Mongol is about a man named Temudjin (Tadanobu Asano) who finds love at 10, becomes a great warrior by 19, and just so happens to unite a group of tribes under one set of laws to create a lasting empire. The story follows Temudjin as he starts as a clan leader’s son, but is then forced to live on his own after his father is killed. He follows his lust for revenge while being chased by enemies. Over the course of the film, he builds up his status to Khan (clan leader) and, eventually, to Genghis Khan.
Ultimately, Mongol is a love story. All of Temudjin's travels lead him back to his wife. For her, he overcomes slavery and imprisonment. The love story is utterly fascinating and suspenseful. In a world where women and children do not matter, Temudjin prioritizes his wife over everything else. Khulan Chuluun is heartbreakingly beautiful and tender as she portrays a wife who has to make unimaginable sacrifices for her husband.
Mongol is filled with folkloric details, making it a hearty rendering of an ancient people. There is a refrain throughout the movie that goes “A Mongol never,” or “A Mongol always.” It is a way to teach the audience about ancient Mongolian culture without being too heavy handed. This constant self-reference by the characters allows the audience member to understand that the movie is about a proud race of people. Mongol does not shy away from the harsher truths of the culture like “Mongols don’t make war over a woman.” Apparently Mongolian warriors of the time did not place value in the lives of women and children.
This movie is an epic period piece, with awesome fight scenes. It has more in common with an old spaghetti western than it does with a mixed martial arts revenge film. All of the amazing outdoor footage blossoming behind the actors on horseback gives the movie it’s fantasy look and feel. The fight scenes are quite inventive. They are not exactly realistic: blood sprays from the victim once a sword hits their torso, but they are beautiful nonetheless. A Mongolian warrior approaches on horseback with two giant machete style swords and hacks his way through the opposing warriors. During the last fight scene, the approach is in slow motion, highlighting the different style of weapon. It is breathtaking. The fight scenes are short, but juicy and satisfying and not too gory, and the bloodshed is not realistic enough to be compared to the level of violence in American movies.
Temudjin is an amazing warrior, but the focus is not really on his skills as a fighter, but more on his moral convictions. He believes in family. He believes in Mongols. He believes in respect. In a way, this is two movies: the story of Temudjin, and the story of Genghis Khan. The story of Temudjin is a great love story, about a woman who inspired a man to do great and wonderful things to keep and protect their connection. The story of Genghis Khan is the story of a man who conquered numerous tribes in order to become the king of all Mongols, and eventually occupy most of Central Asia. Scriptwriters Arif Aliyev and Sergei Bodrov do not reconcile those two versions of the same person within the length of the film. This movie tells us that love and honor were the motivating forces behind Temudjin’s unification of the Mongols. History tells us that the lust for power was the motivating force behind Genghis Khan’s takeover of all of his people. What is brilliant about this movie is that the historical details of Genghis Khan are in the movie. We are shown Temudjin taking over tribe after tribe. We see Temudjin challenge a man to gain control of all Mongol tribes but, the focus of the film is not on his lust for power. The focus is on his character. It is truly director Sergei Bodrov’s vision of a kinder, gentler Khan that prevails.
The Mongol DVD looks great on the outside. The front cover is an amazing action shot of Temudjin leading his warriors into battle, with the greens and blues of the Mongolian sky prevailing. The back cover has three amazing shots from the movie and is consistent with the greens and blues from the front. The plot synopsis on the back of the DVD is wholly unfortunate. It contains every spoiler possible and it focuses too heavily on the movie being the story of Genghis Khan. It is a complete misrepresentation of the movie. The synopsis might just be a lost in translation situation, but it was obviously not written by someone invested in the themes of the film.
The menu is easily navigated; it has a similar picture of Temudjin in battle, with battle noises subtly playing behind the menu. Again, the focus of the DVD, as on the case and the synopsis, is more on the fighting aspect of the movie, and not on the characters. I would have put a picture of Temudjin with Borte, or even of his face behind bars with the DVD menu.
There are only three language options for the subtitles, which is somewhat strange. I would have assumed that there would be Japanese and Chinese options, rather than just the typical English, French, and Spanish, but maybe that is just on the American release of the film.
There are no special features on the film. This fact is particularly unfortunate with this type of movie. I knew nothing about Genghis Khan, or the ancient Mongolian people before seeing this movie and now I am interested. Now I want to know more. Instead of being able to go straight to the special features, I was forced to Wikipedia Genghis Khan.
With such a sweeping epic movie, I would have loved to see some behind the scenes featurettes. I want to know how they got those blue skies to pop the way they did and where exactly each scene was filmed. In the last battle scene, did they have to sit and wait for the thunder and rain, or did they make their own? How about casting? Are all of the cast members Mongolian? How did they go about finding actors that looked like the ancient Mongolians might have looked?
My guess is that, because this movie is so critically acclaimed, it will get the special edition treatment down the road. Once Sergei Bodrov wins that Oscar, a special edition is bound to be released. I would have loved it if the producers of this movie had planned those behind the scenes featurettes in advance. Special editions are great, but they don’t have that hot and fresh out of the oven feel that give making-of featurettes their irreplaceable value.