In the modern day and age of “diaries” and “confessions” the title Mongol: The Untold Story of Genghis Khan makes me giggle. It’s almost like it should be a cover story for People Weekly. “Let’s take a look behind the scenes at what made Genghis Khan the brilliant war tactician and brutal murderer we know him as today.” Instead the film has a deep sense of reverance for it’s lead character. In fact, as far as the movie is concerned, it was love and a deep sense of honor to the handful of people who he felt closest to that drove him to become the legend we know and love today.
Though the title implies that we’re going to get a good, honest, no-holds-barred look at the man behind the myth, known through his life as Temudjin, there’s no doubt in my mind that most of this story is bunk. Elements may remain truthful, but with so much time having passed since that era it would be difficult not to embellish and fictionalize and even create a much grander mythology to go toe-to-toe with the others in existence. And from what I hear this is the first of a trilogy, so they have to find ways to draw it out a little.
Sure it makes this war monster into a living, breathing, lovable warrior – one we can laugh with and feel great amounts of empathy and respect towards – here’s the thing though…it doesn’t matter if how we perceive him is untrue, because the movie is awesome.
Mongol is less Braveheart and more Day Watch, or perhaps really just a good combination of the two, and since the director of the Watch films, Timur Bekmambetov (also Wanted), and the director of this, Sergei Bodrov are both Kazakhs you wonder if they convene every now and then to discuss. Their camera angles capture the world from slightly skewed and exhilarating perspectives, though Bodrov holds back and uses it only when necessary. Certainly as directors they’ve announced that they are here!
Like Braveheart we pick up in Mongol when Temudjin is a boy and he must choose his future bride. His Father who is Khan of his tribe is breeding him for his future. This is when there were codes that were followed by the different tribes. Codes that his Father holds close. These codes are soon broken. And young Temudjin is left on the run. He remains on the run for much of the movie but his journey becomes more spiritual than physical. And that’s where Mongol not only loses it’s grip on reality but takes us deeper into the mythology and sometimes that’s just as necessary to understand who someone was — in film anyway.
His beliefs in a higher power allow him clarity as a leader and bring him a fervent drive on the battle field. He believes so powerfully in what he’s fighting for and why he’s fighting for it any sacrifice becomes worthwhile. Even the friendship of his blood brother, played with surprising relish by the Chinese actor Sun Hong-Lei. Until this point I had only seen Sun in a wonderful little film called Bio-Zombie, but here he shows that he’s a master of his craft.
At its center the movie holds strong to its love story. It’s what keeps Temudjin alive throughout the worst periods of his life and the moments shared on screen between he and the love of his life are both effective and honest. There’s no soaring music when they are together, there’s something deeper and unstrained and each and every time they find each other together again you’re drawn deeper into the world created by the filmmakers.