Day 116: Mongol: The Rise of Genghis Khan (2007)

Maybe I’ve had too much time on my hands for introspection lately, but I’m beginning to wonder if I would have been a super villain (albeit a dorky one) in an alternate universe. I seem to have a lot more characteristics in common with them than perhaps the “average” person would. For example, I tend to be quite reclusive. I spend much of my day in my “lair” (OK, home office, but that just doesn’t sound as ominous) hatching schemes (in all honesty, I’m writing, but that doesn’t really drive fear into the hearts of men unless they are being forced to read the Twilight series). And, for someone not working in the science field, I wear an awful lot of lab coats.


Heck, even in my free time, I tend to pursue a decent amount of villainous activities. Case in point, my absolute favorite video game is Civilization. What’s the goal of that game, you may ask? Well, to take over the world, of course. I even do an evil laugh when I conquer a virtual opponent in the game. Yeah, creepy. Like many of the great super villains, I take pleasure in others’ discomfort: I dress up my pets in crazy outfits and always, always laugh at a groin hit (wow—that’s the second time this week I mentioned groin hits. I have a limited sense of humor). Finally, and perhaps the most compelling evidence that I could have been a super villain, I always root for the Brain’s plans to work—if only that darned Pinky wouldn’t hinder him so.


Naturally, we super villains have to stick together. It’s why I rooted for Sylar in the first season of Heroes (because if a cheerleader trips on a football field and somehow breaks her neck so badly her head is on backwards, it makes it really hard for me to want her to make it through the rest of the series. Save the cheerleader, my ass) and why I find the villains to me infinitely more interesting than heroes in movies (with the exception of Venom in Spidey 3— well, really anyone in Spidey 3). Honestly, it’s probably the reason that Mongol: The Rise of Genghis Khan ended up in my queue. While Genghis Khan had no [known] super powers, he became known for his conquering ways and ruthless tactics. Totally a super villain, right? Well, according to this biopic, he may not have been all bad.


Mongol tells the story of Genghis Khan’s early years. Before he took on the name Genghis Khan (or the symbol which means “the warrior formerly known as Genghis Khan”), his name was Temudjin. The orphaned Temudjin was on the run much of his young life, often forced into slavery until he was able to escape. This happened multiple times—I would be so bold as to call him the Houdini of 12th-century Asia. Adult Temudjin (played by Tadanobu Asano) becomes a bitchin’ warrior and soon an army of men (or barbaric horde, if you will) are following him.


Now, being the evil mastermind that I am, I would have loved to see Genghis on his conquering spree. However, this film was originally supposed to be part of a trilogy and only shows the title character’s early life. Per imdb, the director combined parts two and three into one script which was supposed to be released in 2010. Alas, the films production shut down and it is doubtful that it will be completed.


Like many people my age, I think everything I knew about Genghis Khan, I learned from Bill and Ted’s Excellent Adventure. Now, I’m not sure which movie is more historically accurate, but I was a bit shocked (and disappointed) that Khan was not skateboarding in Mongol. I guess they were keeping that part of his life for the sequels. This film does, however, give depth to the infamous leader. We are given a sense of the difficult times he lived in, the troubles he faced as a child, and his commitment to his family and people.


In this respect, Mongol is a success. I appreciate that it tells a side of Genghis Khan’s story that I hadn’t before given much thought to. While I would have thought a film about his life would be fight scene after fight scene; in part, this movie is really a love story. According to Mongol, Temudjin was very much in love with his wife. When she was kidnapped by an enemy tribe (because in this world view women are just possessions, right?), he risks his life to save her. She, in turn, pulls out all the stops when he winds up in the slammer. Asano does an excellent job at playing the notorious conqueror. While there is a ruthlessness to Khan, there is also an underlying sensitivity and sense of honor.


Although I enjoyed the acting and the concept behind Mongol, I felt that the film wasn’t executed as well as it should have been (here is the super villain in me coming out). First, the film is bookended. I flipping hate bookends unless they are absolutely necessary to telling the story (in this case, they weren’t—they rarely are). Bookends just seem kind of lazy to me—like the filmmaker thinks I won’t like the movie unless I spend the rest of the film wondering “how did he end up in jail?” Newsflash: he was Genghis effing Khan, I kind of assumed he had a run-in or two with the law/enemies, so it wasn’t really a selling point for me. Grumble.


Also, the film seems to skip around quite a bit. I wasn’t exactly sure how much time passed between scenes. For example, one minute his wife is holding a baby, then in the next scene there would be a young boy next to her (the baby all growed up). I found this a bit jarring. Yes, I realize that the baby grew into the boy (and on occasion, the year would be displayed onscreen), but it was disorienting.


The movie also assumed I didn’t want to see the most interesting parts of his early life. Out of nowhere, Khan suddenly has an army of thousands and is poised on the battlefield to attack his enemy. Personally, I wanted to see how this lone man was able to raise an army. On the occasion when we are shown action onscreen, it’s pretty cool. But even the final battle—the one we’ve been waiting for the entire movie—abruptly cuts to the end after a few sequences. Damn.


OK, I only have two more little nitpicky issues with Mongol. Then I’m done; I promise. First, why the fetch did the end credits have hard rock guitar music playing over them? I was dumbfounded when they struck the first chord. It just didn’t seem in sync with the rest of the film.  And second, why does Genghis Khan pass out right before he is captured every single time? He always awakes surrounded by his enemies and is seemingly surprised. I didn’t like this tactic when they used it in Spartacus, and I’m not about to like it now. I mean, come on, what is he, a fainting goat?


Drat. Now it sounds like I hated the film because I found so much fault with it. I didn’t. Mongol did an excellent job of setting the scene. I found the diverse landscapes both threatening and overwhelming. I can’t imagine how hard life would have been during that time, but the film imparts to the audience some of these difficulties. Throughout the whole film, I kept wondering, “how did people find each other back then?” (by “back then” I mean before Google Latitude). Impressive.


I suppose I am torn on my thoughts about Mongol: The Rise of Genghis Khan. On one hand, I really liked the acting, the story, and the tone. Let’s be honest, I’m pretty much a sucker for any historical drama. But on the other hand, it just seemed to be lacking. I would have preferred more continuity between scenes, no weird rock music and actually seeing some of the key pieces that were omitted. Maybe I would have been a little more forgiving of these flaws if I was sure the sequels were on their way, but I guess I will never know. Thus, I am super critical.


Hmmm. Should “the Critic” be my alter ego (or does that just conjure up images of an animated Jon Lovitz saying, “Buy my book, Buy my book..”?)? Whatever. I have time to decide on my super villain name and outfit at a later point (rest assured, there will be no spandex).


Have a wonderful holiday weekend and thanks for reading! 🙂


Score: C+

Netflix Queue: 484

4 Comments, Comment or Ping

  1. speaking of the setting, how is it that they were in the desert and snowy mountains at the same time? Seems like it would cut from one to the other without any time having passes. Maybe there was an elevation change which I was not privy to….

    July 1st, 2011

  2. Megan

    Good question. I just attributed that to continuity issues in the editing room…. or that Genghis Khan could teleport.

    July 2nd, 2011

  3. Bold

    Do some research on the Gobi Desert. It is the coldest desert in the world!

    July 4th, 2011

  4. Megan

    Bold- That is an excellent point. 🙂 I just [briefly] looked up the Gobi Desert. I have to say that some of the photos of it are just amazing– really beautiful. It seems so geographically diverse and massive, I can’t imagine how difficult it would have been to travel it back in those days.

    July 4th, 2011

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