Sergei Bodrov’s epic tale of love and war, betrayal and conquest, centers on the founding of one of history’s greatest dynasties. But this revisionist history of the early life of Ghengis Khan leaves one baffled and unconvinced.
Temudgin, the 9-year-old son of a Khan, sets off a horrific chain of events when he chooses a bride from the wrong tribe. Plots and murders abound, and endless wars furiously rage, filmed in slow motion with drops of blood dancing across the screen. These scenes are almost poetic in their design, underscoring Bodrov’s desire to romanticize his subject. Unfortunately, he fails—there’s nothing poetic about a bloodbath, and these splatters are best suited for gory horror films.
Driving the plot are the struggles Temudgin endures to recapture his birthright. Compelled by superhuman willpower, no matter how it is tested, he always escapes, developing into a remarkable man and an even more distinguished leader. After everything that he has endured, his main goal is to unite the Mongols and instill a code of ethics by which to live.
This is all very inspiring, until we learn that Temudgin is Ghengis Khan. In the end, Temudgin has emerged as the leader of all the Mongols, is reunited with his lost love—he’s even a fantastic father—and rides off into the sunset to supposedly achieve more illustrious gains. We know what kind of monster he is about to become, but the film provides no segue and no explanation for this shift. Bodrov’s primary intent to convince us that Khan was a heroic leader is the film’s downfall. We know Khan was a conquering monster, and without a bridge from the noble man portrayed in the film to the evil one described in history books, the tale we have just watched renders itself meaningless.
Cast: Asano Tadanobu, Honglei Sun, Khulan Chuluun and Odnyam Odsuren
Director: Sergei Bodrov
Screenwriters: Arif Aliyev and Sergei Bodrov
Producers: Sergey Selyanov, Sergei Bodrov and Anton Melnick
Genre: Action/drama; Mongolian-language, subtitled
Rating: R for sequences of bloody warfare
Running time: 120 min.
Release date: June 6 ltd.