Genghis Khan (1950)

Review #1,497

Director:  Manuel Conde
Cast:  Manuel Conde, Elvira Reyes, Inday Jalandoni 
Plot:  Temujin, who later became Genghis Khan is wise, or sometimes cunning.  He goes through several heroic episodes; competing at the Man of Men contest, falling in love with the enemy commander's daughter, and struggling to restore his demolished hometown.

Genre:  Drama 
Awards:  Nom. for Golden Lion (Venice)
Runtime:  88 mins
Rating:  PG
Source:  Film Development Council of the Philippines 

Genghis Khan, the great conqueror, whom many of us have read about in history books, had been the subject of numerous artistic interpretations over many centuries and in different forms.  Cinema is certainly no exception.  

My first introduction to a filmed interpretation of the slave-turned-conqueror was the very beautifully-shot Mongol: The Rise of Genghis Khan (2007), directed by Sergei Bodrov, whose film landed an Oscar nomination for Best Foreign Language Film, a first for Kazakhstan.  So when the Asian Film Archive’s “Restored Asian Classics” series closed with a rare 1950 picture made in the Philippines about the travails of Temudjin, it was difficult for me to resist.

Directed, co-written and starring Manuel Conde in the titular role, Genghis Khan was the first Filipino film to compete at the Venice Film Festival in 1952, a major accomplishment no doubt, and an honour to be in the same category with films by Fellini, Bergman, Rossellini, Ford and Mizoguchi.  

Operating at times like a physical comedy (an early ‘Man of Men’ contest sequence can attest to that), Conde’s film also straddles into dramatic territory, particularly in its depiction of conflict and romance.  Temudjin falls in love with the daughter of his enemy, and amid efforts in rebuilding his hometown, his courage and tenacity shine through when he is put to the test as a fearless leader of his men.

Through the impressive choreography of battle scenes and the believability of its period setting (it was shot in Conde’s home country where parts of the landscape brilliantly conjure up images of the Gobi Desert), Genghis Khan is visually engaging, but what keeps it from being great is the film’s distracting English narration overlay, a feature of the international version.  

It is frustrating to watch because, firstly, the original Tagalog track is there, mixed in a lower volume so that the narration overpowers it; and secondly, the narration makes the film feels staged, rather than broadly cinematic.  For all of its merits, and flashes of Conde’s technical excellence, Genghis Khan does ultimately feel like the screen equivalent of reading a bedtime story to a kid.  And for most parts, it’s not terribly exciting.

Verdict:  While the international version doesn’t add anything much with its distracting English narration overlay, Conde’s artistic direction and technical ability have flashes of excellence.  



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