by A. K. Tucker
“Mongol” begins as nine year old Temudgin journeys on horse across Mongolia’s steppes with his father Esugei, ruler and Khan of his clan, and several tribesmen to select a future wife. Esugei has arranged for Temudgin to be betrothed to a member of the Merkits to instill peace between the clans. However, Temudgin selects ten year old Borte to be his spouse en route to the Merkits land. The marriage is agreed upon and the Temudgin’s group travels back to their clan.
During the return journey, Esugei is poisoned by an enemy tribe and his inheritance is usurped by traitorous warrior Targutai. When Targutai announces his intention to kill Temudgin as soon as Temudgin is old enough to be considered a threat, the young boy flees into the unforgiving landscape.
Temudgin befriends Jamukha, son of another tribe’s Khan, and the pair pledge to become blood brothers before Temudgin is seized and detained by Targutai. After a second escape, Temudgin takes refuge in sacred land and eventually reunites with Borte, now a lovely woman who becomes his partner and trusted counselor. When Borte is taken by the Merkits, Temudgin enlists Jamukha’s help to retrieve her, resulting in the movie’s first major battle scene. Conflict mounts as Temudgin undergoes a slew of formidable trials and labors in his efforts to unite all Mongols, eventually leading to battles on a grand scale.
The movie is based on a combination of widely-held accounts, elements of Mongol mythology and magic, and a lengthy poem entitled “The Secret History of Mongols,” a synopsis of Genghis Khan’s life that was written well after the ruler’s death. The epic poem was thought to be lost until it resurfaced in China in the nineteenth century. Russian director Sergei Bodrov, best known for the award winning 1996 film “Prisoner of the Mountain,” provided his version of Temudgin from his own research and that of screenwriter Arif Aliyev.
Mongolian actor Odnyam Odsuren portrays young Temudgin while acclaimed Japanese actor Tadan Asano depicts the adult Temudgin. First time actress Khulan Culuun delivers an excellent performance as Borte and Chinese actor Honglei Sun adeptly portrays the jocular Jamukha.
Aside from numerous self-descriptive declarations about the Mongol culture that detract from the film, “Mongol” masterfully depicts the rough, fierce Mongolian lifestyle of Genghis’ time amidst stunning landscapes that vary from steppes to deserts and mountains. Bodrov artfully blends the historical analysis of Genghis Khan with a bright and generous man. “Mongol” is an admirable feat.