Mongol (The Rise of Genghis Khan) -- A Movie Review and Summary
In the unforgiving, frozen wastes of Mongolia, a young boy named Temudjin finds himself orphaned when his father dies suddenly. Because he is the son of a tribal leader, members of his own village turn against him in order to secure leadership for themselves. He manages to flee, and against all odds finds another village where he can survive and hide until he is old enough to fight for himself. There he finds the boy who becomes his blood brother, Jamukha, forging a bond that is meant to last a lifetime.
When Temudjin (Tadanobu Asano) reaches adulthood, he throws himself into the bloody form of politics practiced all over Mongolia – bloody tribal wars, kill or be killed, and try to hold onto a wife and produce the next generation while you’re at it. Temudjin is able to claim the wife that he’d chosen as a child, Borte (Khulan Chuluun), only to have to win her back from marauding bandits many times over. Through his travels, he falls back in – and out – with Jamukha (Honglei Sun), now as bloodthirsty as any on the plains and seeking only his next profitable raid. Throughout time spent in slavery and these endless, pointless feuds, Temudjin realizes that the only way to stop the constant bloodshed amongst his own people is to unite them under a single leader, one system of strict laws, and a common goal. He emerges from his humble beginnings to become that great leader, one of the most effective and most feared in history – the man who became known as Genghis Khan.
There are probably very few people in the world who have never heard of Genghis Khan. This man revolutionized guerilla-style horseback warfare, united an entire country that was at war with itself, and set even the mighty Russian empire quaking in its boots. For all we’re taught about this man – whether it’s as a great leader, or a relentless tyrant – very little about his actual life is known. Mongol offers an excellent introduction to that life, filling in the foundation of the man that history remembers so well.
In the category of historical dramas, this movie really stands out for its accuracy and its success in humanizing a man who has been so vilified in the histories of those he conquered. The selected locations – mainly in Mongolia – and the traditional Mongolian attire give it the authentic feel that viewers of historical dramas crave. However, the drama is so well-crafted that this movie certainly isn’t exclusively for those with historical interests, it’s also an excellent standalone film that will provide excellent entertainment that’s full of action.
Pacing starts out a little bit slow near the beginning of the movie, especially through the details of young Temudjin’s search for sanctuary and his subsequent growing up. Once it picks up as he reaches manhood, however, it stays moving very well as it builds up to the climactic end. Parents should be aware that there is quite a bit of fighting and bloodshed shown throughout the movie, though that is the extent of anything inappropriate for younger ages. The movie is done in Mongolian with some Mandarin thrown in, so the vast majority of English speakers will probably have to rely on subtitles throughout.
As for the acting – it’s very plain to see why this film won a number of awards, and got an Oscar nomination. The performances of Asano and Sun, especially, stood out for their very realistic portrayals of Temudjin and Jamukha, including a very wide range of emotions that must have been quiet challenging to act out.
Overall, this is one of the best recent historical dramas, offering something for just about every type of viewer. Don’t let the subtitles get in the way, once the action heats up it’s hard to even remember that you’re reading. This movie is definitely recommended to fans of action/adventure, drama, and historical fiction, as well as anyone looking for a basic foundation on which to build future research into the early life of Genghis Khan.
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