Mongol is to Genghis Khan as The Motorcycle Diaries was to Che Guevara, relegating itself only to the formative years of the 12th-to-13th-century warrior who would unite the nomadic Mongol tribes into a barbarian Empire that spanned most of Asia. A restricted focus, however, doesn’t entail a restrained approach, as director Sergei Bodrov and screenwriter Arif Aliyev reconfigure Khan’s early bio details—born Temudgin to a tribal chief, then thrust into exile and forced into slavery before rising to power—as a splashy Hollywood epic with franchise written all over it (a trilogy is apparently in the works). Played by Odnyam Odsuren as a boy and Japanese star Tadanobu Asano as a man, Bodrov’s Khan is a rebel hero cast in the mold of Gladiator‘s Maximus and Braveheart‘s William Wallace, a self-made leader whose brutality coexists with love for loyal wife Borte (Khulan Chuluun) and benevolence for his soldiers. Given the hazy historical record concerning Khan’s life, this portrait must be taken with a modest grain of salt, though Bodrov’s melding of facts and fantasy—encompassing not only the plight of Temudgin but also the violence, misogyny, and mystical paganism of Mongolian culture—nonetheless has a compelling grandeur. The film is more interested in spectacle than psychological inquiry, and consequently Asano’s embodiment of the legendary protagonist isn’t particularly layered and often seems incapable of conveying clear-cut motivations. Nonetheless, his quiet intensity and thoughtfulness proves a welcome counterpoint to his more colorful villainous counterparts, the treacherous Targutai (Amadu Mamadakov) and power-hungry Jamukha (Honglei Sun), who as a kid becomes Temudgin’s blood brother but, as an adult, finds his authority challenged by his iconoclastic friend. One need only witness Jamukha express his rage at Temudgin’s radical behavior by gritting his teeth and skinning his head with a razor-sharp sword—or Temudgin dispatch fiends in Slipknot-style masks with Skywalker-ian fury, or don cape, belt, and armor like a medieval Batman—to understand that Mongol is splashy action-drama first, exacting biopic second. Yet Bodrov whips up enough wild, unruly energy and, in his depiction of sex as a Mongolian female’s most vital commodity, sociological scraps to help overshadow the somewhat cheesy dubiousness of his myth-making project.
- 124 min
- Sergei Bodrov
- Arif Aliyev, Sergei Bodrov
- Tadanobu Asano, Honglei Sun, Khulan Chuluun, Odnyam Odsuren, Amarbold Tuvinbayar, Bayartsetseg Erdenabat, Amadu Mamadakov
- Slant is reaching more readers than ever before, but advertising revenue across the Internet is falling fast, hitting independently owned and operated publications like ours the hardest. We’ve watched many of our fellow media sites fall by the way side in recent years, but we’re determined to stick around.
We’ve never asked our readers for financial support before, and we’re committed to keeping our content free and accessible—meaning no paywalls or subscription fees. If you like what we do, however, please consider becoming a Slant patron.
You can also make a one-time donation via PayPal: