Thursday, June 26, 2008

Genghis: The Wonder Years

So the second foreign-language Oscar nominee (for last year) rolled around to the local movie house, the Russian flick Mongol, based on the life and times of all around party animal Temujin, better known as Genghis Khan.


Sorry. Where was I? This is actually more like the first movie in a new superhero franchise, or "The Motorcycle Diaries" for the Oriental set. It shows Temujin from his troubled childhood--where many try to kill him and he is often alone on the Mongolian Steppes--right up to the point where he unites the hordes.

Now, some object to this film on the basis that ol' Genghis was a ruthless warlord. But I don't recall the same objections to "Alexander". Hell, the French are fond of flattering portrayals of Napoleon, and he was much more ruthless and a far worse ruler in his short time than the Khans were.

But we don't hear much about that. Let's face it, the Mongols conquered a whole bunch of people, and raped if the modern DNA evidence is to be believed, and quite a few people haven't gotten over that. So where Alexander, Caesar or even Xerxes or Darius may be portrayed in a positive light, we're not likely to ever here anything nice about Temujin.

Or, weren't until now.

This movie shows the Khan as a semi-reluctant leader, or at least one who was more interested in hanging out with his wife and kids than leading an army, and who unified the hordes to impose some order on the increasingly lawless Mongols.

Sure, why not? All mythical leaders do that, one way or the other.

He's a tough bastard, we're shown that. At the same time, he's curiously attached to his wife, whose attitude is, shall we say, mercenary when it comes to protecting him. Attached? He's downright progressive vis a vis her relations with other men.

It's an interesting angle, and the movie is full of such angles, along with magnificent cinematography, fine acting and a gorgeous cast (particularly Khulan Chullun, who plays Temujin's wife, Borte, and might actually be Mongolian). The action scenes are well done and well shot, meeting with The Boy's approval, but be forewarned, this isn't really a movie about Temujin's conquests. (Two other movies are planned to cover that.)

What that means it that the two hour running time has some lags and some repetitious feeling. Temujin is captured more than Robin. There's a lot of schlepping, like one of the Lord of the Rings movies, only it often seems even more aimless. The narrative has the Khan alone for most of his early life, without followers or much status. A lot is done to emphasize that.

The movie won me over, but it's not for the impatient, and could use 20 minutes trimmed off. So far, I'm inclined to believe the Academy went the right way giving the Oscar to Die Falscher. But I will be looking forward to the second installment.


  1. If you want to start the boy off reading instead of just watching movies, the British author Conn Iggulden has two cool books about Genghis Khan that should be at his reading level. They are historical fiction by the author of the Dangerous Book for Boys. The first is about the rise of the young Tem├╝jin on the plains of Mongolia and is called Wolf of the Plains. The second is about the invasion of China after he had united the clans and is called Lords of the Bow. It fully explores the history of his family and the issues regarding the kidnapping of his wife and the legitimacy of his first son. (Hey echoes of the Searchers, man that is everywhere). Anyway this is a pretty good easy to follow entertaining series that might get him into reading. Just sayn’

  2. When I see a movie or TV show that states "Inspired by a true story" I often go out and try to find a nonfiction book or novel about the subject to see how true it really is to real life. This lead to a life long love affair with reading.

  3. Yeah, I've done that a bit. Also it's fun to do the other way: Learn about the time period then read fiction centered around that time.

    It's been said that Wolf of the Plains was the inspiration for this movie, although it's not credited as such.

    The Boy was mostly interested in how the Mongol Horse Archers would fare versus armored elephants. As far as I know, they never met....

  4. Well I think the books are pretty enjoyable. I read alot, about three to four books a week, but I have a lot of time on the train and such. But both of those books are well imagined historical novels with enough action to make it fun for a kid.

  5. I'll pick up the three of 'em tonight. Got some Amazon shopping to do...

  6. I think only two are out now. I will get the third if it's out. The second one about China was pretty cool.

  7. Wolf of the Plains is actually out of print; I'm getting a used copy.

    Lords of the Bow is out as is Genghis: Birth of an Empire, which I think is #3. Might be unrelated.


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