Mongol (2009)

Director: Sergei Bodrov
Plot: The story recounts the early life of Genghis Khan who was a slave before going on to conquer half the world including Russia in 1206.

Genre: Biography/Drama/Romance/War
Awards: Nom. for 1 Oscar - best foreign language feature.
Runtime: 126min
Rating: NC16 for sequences of bloody warfare.



Mongol is the first film of a planned trilogy by Russian director Sergei Bodrov on the life of one of history’s most famous conquerors - Genghis Khan or Temudjin. With a runtime of just slightly more than two hours, the film is short of being an epic, and even though it shows glimpses of ‘epic-ness’, its ability to project a scope of Lawrence Of Arabia-esque proportions will probably become even clearer when the sequels are completed.

Mongol was nominated for an Oscar for Best Foreign Language Feature which it rightfully did not win in a year that produced excellent dramas such as 12 (2007) and eventual winner The Counterfeiters (2007). Yet nothing prepares us for the film’s most impressive attribute: its cinematography. Mongol is as beautifully shot as any film can be. From static scenes of natural tranquility to kinetic camera movements which capture men with swords on galloping horses, Mongol bears resemblances to some of Kurosawa’s best known works like Seven Samurai (1954) and Ran (1985).

The acting is not top-notch but is good enough to make the film’s characters come alive. Japanese actor Asano Tadanobu is surprisingly well-cast as Temudjin. He gives a thorough performance and oozes screen presence reminiscent of the great Toshiro Mifune. He is joined by renowned Chinese actor Sun Honglei who plays Jamukha, Temudjin’s ally-turned-foe. The best display from the supporting cast belongs to Chuluun Khulan who plays Borte, Temudjin’s gutsy and selfless wife.

Mongol suffers greatly in the final quarter during a momentous battle between the massive armies of Temudjin and Jamukha in a bid to rule Mongolia. The use of obvious CGI to create most of the battle dilutes the whole cinematic experience. Until then, Mongol has been successful in drawing viewers into the exotic settings through its brilliant cinematography, effectively transporting us back through time. But the sudden change in texture and color of the scenes in this visual effects sequence make it feel out of place.

Furthermore, the final battle is anti-climatic; it starts and ends abruptly. Ironically, this comes as a relief because any longer would have significantly reduced the film’s impact and power. Mongol is a film grounded in reality, based on tradition, history and culture. CG effects have no place in such a film. This flaw is hard to ignore but Bodrov’s skill in crafting an almost impeccable first three-quarters is hard to ignore as well. Action scenes, in particular, are exciting and bloody. Though I have some reservations towards the sequels (I have no doubt more CG effects will be employed), I hope that Mongol is a prelude to better things to come from Bodrov.


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