It's very rarely uninteresting to delve into the original impetus behind why a filmmaker chooses to make a particular film. Russian-born director Sergei Bodrov's Mongol: The Rise to Power of Genghis Khan, which screens on SBS One at 9.30pm on March 24, didn't disappoint.
Genghis Khan has been played by some very famous names, including John Wayne in 1956 (The Conqueror) and Omar Sharif in 1965 (Genghis Khan), and many films have been made about him. This isn't surprising given that he founded a colossal empire, one of the biggest in history, and made many friends and enemies doing so.
Bodrov has said that in Russia, parts of which were ruled by Mongols for several hundred years, the emperor is portrayed as a brutal, merciless dictator with no heart. He's portrayed so badly, in fact, that Bodrov became suspicious and wanted to know more. The two texts he particularly turned to were The Legend of the Black Arrow, a book by Russian historian Lev Gumilev, and a long anonymous poem called The Secret History of the Mongols, believed to have been written soon after the emperor's death in 1227.
What struck Bodrov was that there was a missing 10 years in Genghis Khan's early life and it's this decade or so that the filmmaker chose to concentrate on in the film, in part because he felt strongly that it was these years that formed his character.
Genghis Khan's boyhood name was Temüjin. His difficulties began when his father was poisoned and the tribe rejected the young boy's suggestion that he should take on his father's role of chief. It left the family in poverty and without the tribe's protection.
The film makes it seem like there is a countless array of characters – men from his own tribe wanting to prevent him ever becoming leader and others with a grudge against him because of the actions of his father – capturing Temüjin and putting him into stocks when he was still in his teens.
“People are either crushed by prison or become unbreakable,” said Bodrov. “Genghis Khan became strong.”
If this all sounds a bit serious, there's a slightly wacky edge to the film that relieves the tension and a love story threaded through the action that demonstrates Genghis Khan's extraordinary loyalty.
And by the way, Japanese actor Tadanobu Asano in the lead role is more justified than either Wayne or Sharif because some in Japan think that Genghis Khan was a famous Japanese warrior.
Mongol: The Rise to Power of Genghis Khan was nominated for an Academy Award in the foreign language category. Talk of a trilogy seems to have dissipated. Perhaps the impetus is not strong enough.