Mongol: The Rise to Power of Genghis Khan (2007) by Russian director Sergey Bodrov aims to tell the true story of how Genghis Khan came from almost nowhere (he was the son of a minor tribal chief) to found what would become the largest contiguous empire in history – and, more importantly, why he did it.
Well, I’ll leave the viewer to decide whether or not the Great Khan was a murderous psychopath. The film certainly doesn’t paint him this way. Instead, it is compatible with what is known of his history. At the time (around 1200), that part of Asia was a mess of competing tribes, constantly raiding each other and causing general mayhem. To protect his family, he set out to impose the rule of law – his law, but still, law.
The director claims the movie is faithful to the historical facts, and overall it does seem to be, except insofar as Temujin (his real name) calls upon the help of the Mongol’s favourite god Tengri every now and then, and the god actually intervenes. I suppose people of the time would have believed such stories, so perhaps they were recorded as fact. A little director’s license isn’t totally out of place, I suppose.
Overall, the film charts his rise to power in considerable detail, showing how he was captured as a child, how he escaped, how he was captured as a adult, how he escaped (with the help of his wife, Borte)… It is a shame therefore that the film ends with a bit of a jump, showing him with a big army without a clear explanation of how he managed to acquire it.
This is only a minor quibble though. This movie could probably have been more successful if the marketing had been more accurate. Worldwide it only grossed some US$25M at the box office. It was marketed as a bloodthirsty man-fest, and this is just not accurate, so probably a lot of men were disappointed. While there is plenty of masculine posing and battle scenes (inevitable in a movie about Genghis Khan, I suppose), it is in reality a rather unusual member of the romance genre. What the movie charts with just as much emphasis is his (mostly long-distance) relationship with his wife. It was to protect her and later his children that he embarked on most if not all of his military activity, and a greater emphasis on this might have attracted a wider audience.
I have no complaints about the acting or the actors. It was plain, subtle and realistic. The effects also were excellent. Indeed I think the sets were much improved by the absence of too much CGI and the use of real stone and wood to build the sets (because Chinese law wouldn’t allow the use of artificial materials in the nature reserves used for most of the filming): they looked entirely authentic to me.
Overall, this is an excellent movie and an eye-opening look at one of history’s most remarkable people. With only minor quibbles I think I can reasonably give this one a score of 9/10.