The story of Temudgin (Tadanobu Asano), spanning his life from age 9 in 1172 when he choses his bride, who becomes his soul mate, Borte (Khulan Chuluun) in the long, dangerous wars that follow. Taken prisoner by warring tribes, forming a brotherly bond with Jamukha (Honglei Sun) that is eventually doomed and through battles and adventures, he takes his place in history in 1206, when the feuding nomadic clans of Mongolia finally united under his leadership and he conquered half the world – as the Khan of Khans – Genghis Khan.

1 Jan 2009 - 12:00 AM  UPDATED 31 Jan 2020 - 12:13 PM
A sweeping historical epic in the grand tradition.

Films don’t get much more international than this: co-production credits aside, there’s a Japanese lead actor, a Russian director and a Chinese and Mongolian supporting cast. Mongol is a sweeping historical epic in the grand tradition. As the first part of a projected trilogy about the life of Genghis Khan, Mongol covers about twenty years, starting in 1172 when Temudjin – Khan’s original name – is aged nine. It’s an eventful year, encompassing both his choice of a future wife and the murder (by poisoning) of his beloved father. Subsequent formative experiences include capture and humiliation.

The treatment is sometimes corny and it’s frequently over-produced, but it looks fantastic, thanks to a combination of striking landscapes and exotic costumes. The battle scenes are particularly compelling, replete as they are with slow-motion balletic splatter a la Sam Peckinpah. The haunting musical score by Tuomas Kantelinen adds to the rich mix. And Tadanobu Asano – who plays the adult Temudjin – has a tough yet soulful presence. All that said, the whole falls somewhat short of the sum of its parts.

The Mongolian proverb quoted at the beginning of the film says, 'Do not scorn a weak cub – he may become the brutal tiger". Historians would no doubt baulk at the kind of revisionist treatment that pleads mitigating provocation for Genghis Khan’s atrocities, and which tries to show his warm and restrained side. This was, after all, a man who built pyramids of human skulls and at least once destroyed every living thing in a town: babies, cats, dogs, you name it. But taken on its own terms – as a swashbuckling adventure story – Mongol is entertaining.

Filmink 3.5/5

it looks fantastic



Friday 7 February, 10:55PM on SBS (streaming after broadcast at SBS On Demand)

Russia, Germany, Kazakhstan, 2007
Genre: Drama, History, War
Language: Mongolian, Mandarin
Director: Sergei Bodrov
Starring: Tadanobu Asano, Khulan Chuluun, Honglei Sun
What's it about?
A sweeping epic, Mongol delves into the dramatic early years of Genghis Khan (Asano), who was born as Temudgin in 1162. As it follows him from his perilous childhood to the battle that sealed his destiny, the film paints a multi-dimensional portrait of the future conqueror, revealing him not as the evil brute of legend, but as an inspiring and visionary leader. Nominated for the 2008 Academy Award for Best Foreign Language Film.