Reviewed by: George Williamson

Imagine Gladiator shot in the style of Himalaya – Mongol charges onto the screen from the beautifully desolate steppes, leaving clouds of dust, severed limbs and burning yurts in its wake. This is a classic epic; a tale of loss, hardship and revenge, of coming back from nothing to win everything. The story of the man who would be Khan.

Genghis Khan was the man who lead a bloody joining of the horseback tribes of northeastern Asia and then spearheaded a violent conquest of almost the whole of Asia. Mongol focuses on the formative years of Temüjin (his born name). It shows how he chose his wife (or perhaps how she chose him), periods of slavery and being outcast, and his struggles with his blood-brother turned arch-rival Jamukha. The film culminates with the last great battle between the Mongolian tribes - a unifying conflict that paved the way for the greatest empire in history.

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Mongol straddles the line between dry historical biopic and gung-ho hack-and-slash epic. The action sequences are visually reminiscent of Braveheart, with grainy fast cut montages of brutal battle, blood spraying everywhere. While these sequences are compelling, they take a back seat to the story: Tadanobu Asano is grubbily convincing as Temüjin, giving real weight to the decay of his friendship with Jamukha (Honglei Sun), and the development of his relationship with Börte (Khulan Chuluun) from loving wife to trusted counsel. The film is shot in a breathtaking fashion; like Eric Valli's excellent Himalaya, Mongol largely relies on natural colours and the sheer scale of the landscape to set the scene - and it does so brilliantly. After the barrage of fantastical colours in Hero it's refreshing to see a more subtle palette in play without artistic merit being sacrificed. The cinematography is reinforced with a suitably stirring soundtrack that blends an orchestral score with elements of traditional Mongolian throat singing to good effect.

However, it's worth stressing that those expecting an accurate portrayal of the real Chingiz Khaan may be disappointed - this is definitely about Genghiz Kahn, the legendary Mongolian hero figure. It's also obviously been somewhat modernised for global mainstream audiences to bolster the romantic side of the plot and make Genghis seem a rather nice, honest chap. In reality he apparently murdered one of his brothers when thirteen and was occasionally given to massacre on a grand scale, although sources on his youth are very limited, so some artistic licence is to be expected. On the whole the updates add depth and make the bloodthirsty leader a much more interesting character, although he seems a little too pleasant to be plausible as a man whose wicked cunning and fierce determination allowed him to conquer a huge portion of the globe.

This slice of feudal life on the steppes may be a little embellished but that certainly doesn't prevent Mongol from being a gripping movie with excellent production design. Highly recommended.

Reviewed on: 29 May 2008
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Biopic covering the early life and battles of the man who, as Genghis Khan, would go on to conquer half the known world.
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Director: Sergei Bodrov

Writer: Arif Aliyev, Sergei Bodrov

Starring: Tadanobu Asano, Khulan Chuluun, Odnyam Odsuren, Honglei Sun, Amadu Mamadakov, Aliya, Bayertsetseg Erdenebat, Ba Sen

Year: 2007

Runtime: 120 minutes

BBFC: 15 - Age Restricted

Country: Germany, Kazakhstan, Russia , Mongolia


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