The point, which I first noticed in House of the Flying Daggers, is that movies aren’t limited to Hollywood or the U.S. or even Europe anymore. China has shown that it can make world class movies, and now Russia, probably with a lot of help from China, can do likewise. If successful movie recipes were proprietary, they aren’t any more.
Enter Mongol, the story of Genghis Khan’s rise to power and Mongolia’s rise to empire. Genghis Khan was one of the most powerful men that ever lived, and the movie is a study in that power. It was directed by Russian Sergei Bodrov, who studied Genghis Khan and Mongolia in depth. These are things we don’t know much about, and they are fertile ground for a movie this big. Remember, the Mongols ruled Russia for 200 years.
An international Asian cast. They went all over the world for casting. They found Japanese actor Tadanobu Asano (who recently starred in a Zatoichi movie – the blind swordsman) to play the Temudgin, that is, Genghis Khan.
And sassy Khulan Chuluun, Temudgin’s wife, a complete knockout, in a love partnership that would be extraordinary in any age, much less the 12th century. This Mongolian actress was freshly discovered for the movie, and had never acted before.
Temudgin’s blood brother later turned blood enemy is Jamukha, played by a Chinese actor Honglei Sun, from The Road Home, a early Zhang Yimou, Ziyi Zhang movie. A powerful and charming character.
Everyone else in the movie is played by a Mongolian, and they are a handsome people.
The crew was 600 and the cast was 1,000, since they had battles to do. And you’ve never seen battles quite like this. Don’t fool with the Mongols. Shot in the most incredible scenery in really remote locations in China, Mongolia and Kazakhstan (like 12 hours by car on rudimentary roads from the nearest towns). Similar to the scenery in Daggers, with open spaces as far as the eye can see, captured in eye-popping cinematography.
This is not an American movie, although I suspect there is some American money, technology and technical expertise in here. Mongol has been nominated for an academy award. The credits read something like Daggers, international but mostly Asian, and you can see that they spared no expense in their efforts.
Bodrov was culturally sensitive, as one should be for a movie like this. He went to visit the chief shaman of Mongolia in Ulan Bator to ask permission to make the movie. The shaman granted the request, and was appreciative that Bodrov had asked. Good move.
You can touch the city scenes, the costumes, the textures. This movie takes you back to that time, making you wonder how it would be to live among them, making you compare your life to theirs. It’s transporting. The music, filled out by musicians Bodrov found in Mongolia, is haunting and exotic, a huge factor in bringing you back there.
The movie is entirely in Mongolian (Temudgin says it’s the most beautiful language in the world) and there are subtitles. But that doesn’t slow it down for a minute. It engages you completely from the onset and throughout. I walked out wishing there was more – feeling cheated out of the further history that followed Temudgin’s rise to power.
Can you remember the last time you saw a Russian movie? Not me. And yet here it is bursting onto the international screen with everything you would want. This is a movie that will keep you at the edge of your seat throughout, from Mongolian history to horrific violence to larger than life characters, and back again. It’s fast, and it’s furious.
Movies are one of the great cultural experiences of our lives, and they are becoming completely global. Distance and language aren’t barriers anymore. What a great time to be alive, to be able to experience a movie like this. It’s great to learn how these people lived in the 12th century (life was tough and short), but it’s even better to be able to watch it all unfold with Dolby 900 years later.
This one will play everywhere.