film ‘Mongol’: The Man Before the Myth |

film ‘Mongol’: The Man Before the Myth

Stephen Hunter
The Washington Post

‘Mongol’: The Man Before the Myth

By Stephen Hunter

(c) 2008, The Washington Post

Perhaps the most reliable modern empiric gauge of a movie’s effectiveness is this: How fast does it send you to Wikipedia? The faster, the better, because that means you’ve got to know more.

In the case of “Mongol,” the answer was: very fast, close to a new record. And I learned that “Mongol,” while a hell of a good time at the movies in its chronicling of the first 30 years of the man who went from slave to conqueror, is more romantic and less squalid than the reality.

The result is a wallow in old movie pleasures, full of battles, flying dust, thousands of men on horseback, beautiful women, treachery, slaughter, really cool hats and even more slaughter.

When the big-budget, cast-o’-thousands Russian epic begins, Temudjin (played by Japanese heartthrob Tadanobu Asano), as the man who would become Genghis Khan was once known, is a 9-year-old kid (the excellent Odnyam Odsuren) on his way to pick out a bride. A complex society of clan networks and obligations has sprung up, and the marriage has more political purpose than social. But young Temudjin demands that the selection take place at a way station among a minor clan rather than at a more powerful, politically appropriate camp. Temudjin has seen Borte, and that’s enough for him.

So that core of love, lust and touchy-feely is what drives “Mongol,” more than politics or land lust, and the surprise is that the movie is as much about Borte’s cunning and relentlessness in dealing with the obstacles between her and Temudjin (such as five mythical years in a Chinese prison) as about conquest. In fact, a better title might have been: “Genghis Khan: A Love Story.”

Still, there’s a lot of guy stuff. They ride, they fight, they ride some more, they fight some more. Whoever was on the electronic blood spurt machine probably got overtime or at least a bonus.

In the end, we’re about a third of the way through the great Khan’s life; he hasn’t even begun to take down the cities of Cathay or spread his seed. That suggests two sequels. I, for one, can’t wait.

“Mongol” R, 124 minutes, Contains violence. In Mongolian with subtitles.