Monday, May 11, 2009

MONGOL: A Grand, Old-Fashioned Epic

MONGOL (historical epic)
Cast: Tadanobu Asano, Channing Tatum, Khulan Chuluun, Amadu Mamadakov, Odnyam Odsuren and Amarbold Tuvshinbayar
Director:Sergei Bodrov
Time: 120 mins
Rating: * * * (out of 4)

Khulan Chuluun and Tadanobu Asano in MONGOL

PREAMBLE: Russian director Sergei Bodrov has always been fascinated with Mongolian history and culture. This is evident in his 2005 movie, Nomad: The Warrior which was purportedly about a descendant of Genghis Khan. However, 'Nomad' did not do well in the US and was relegated to DVD.

Mongol, however, is a different cup of tea. Nominated for Best Foreign Language Film at the 2008 Academy Awards, it is the first of a biographical trilogy on Genghis Khan based on historical facts and tribal folklore and myth.

WHAT'S IT ABOUT? Mongol is a grand-scale epic made in the style of yesteryear classics like Spartacus, Ben Hur and Dr Zhivago. It does not have any CGI (computer-generated imagery), 'wire-fu' stunts or high-tech special effects. Instead, it boasts of spectacular landscapes and sceneries of the Mongolian steppes, scenes of bloody and brutal battles and an enduring love story.

The movie opens in 1172 when Temudgin (Odnyam Odsuren) is nine. Tradition decrees that he must choose a bride and his father Esugai (Ba Sen), a tribal leader, takes him to the Merkits tribe where he selects the spirited Borte.

The next few years of Temudgin's life are traumatic. After the death of his father, the boy is captured by the usurper Targutai (Amadu Mamadakov), who vows to kill Temudgin when he is grown up (as the Mongol code of honour does not allow him to kill children). Temudgin manages to escape and he befriends a tribal prince, Jamukha (Amarbold Tuvinbayar). The two become blood brothers.

Fast forward to a few years and we find Temudgin (now played by Tadanobu Asano) going to the Merkits tribe to claim Borte (Khulan Chuluun) as his bride. But more turmoil is in store for our hero.

First, an old enemy of his father kidnaps Borte - and Temudgin seeks Jamukha's (Sun Honglei in the adult role) help to rescue her - earning the dubious honour of being the first Mongol chief to go to war over a woman. Next, Temudjin's relationship with Jamukha turns sour when the former refuses to become second-in-command and the blood brothers become bitter enemies.

Finally, when he is captured and sold as a slave in the city of Tangut, Borte comes to his rescue. From here on, Temudgin starts building up his army for his dream of uniting all the Mongolian tribes.

HITS & MISSES: It is very easy for audiences to get involved with the plot. Bodrov balances the spectacular battle sequences with details of Temudgin's life and Mongolian customs, keeping us rivetted, if not enthralled, throughout the movie. Asano, a Japanese, does not look like the right man to play Genghis Khan, although he gets our sympathy.

Sun Honglei, however, seems to have the best role. He has the most memorable lines, and he is both the charmer and the joker. Khulan Chuluun is suitably endearing and gutsy as the pillar of Temudgin's life while the younger cast are credible enough.

THE LOWDOWN: Mongol should delight most viewers and make them look forward to the sequels.


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