When it comes to the historical epic, Hollywood has not had much of a successful run over the past few years. Big budget productions from directors like Wolfgang Petersen and Oliver Stone have left a bad gash on the historical epic genre. Leaving apart the historical accuracy of the films which could stir up elaborate debates by themselves; Troy was far from satisfactory, and Alexander was just plain sad. The only exception was Zack Snyder's beautifully stylized 300.
Mongol is an offering from Russian film-maker Sergei Bodrov known for his Academy Award nominated work Prisoners of the Mountains, nominated for the Best Foreign Film category. That perhaps is the only similarity between these two films of his. Mongol was nominated in the same category in 2007. Mongol tells us the story of young Temudjin, of how he became the great Khan, Genghis Khan. The major part of the story is a telling of his early childhood and his growing up by Temudjin himself, now in captivity. Being a story of his growing up, most of the emphasis lies in lessons, learning the ways of life. To fear, to be brave, to defy, to make friends, and so on and so forth. The film shows us Temudjin's slow transformation from being the oppressed son of a Khan, awaiting death once he his found by his enemies who want the crown of Khan, to his becoming the great Khan himself.
The film's lead Tadanobu Asano, playing the role of Temudjin is considerably good. But the one deserving more credit is Sun Honglei who plays Jamukha, Temudjin's 'blood-brother' who became his enemy. Sun Honglei is a revelation. He commands attention with his screen presence. His role is a lesson in how to control the glare of the camera. Apart from some solid acting, the film has a brilliant background score, often haunting; and some top notch cinematography. The fight sequences are exceptionally well-made, and some of the landscape shots are beautiful. The camera tracking in the war sequences toward the end of the film deserve special mention.
Recalling Troy and Alexander, Mongol is a far superior film, from all angles. It shows everything it wants to in graphic detail in its mere two hour run-time. It has an extremely fast-flowing narrative which ensures that the viewers are never tired or bored of what is going on on-screen.
Mongol is only the first of a trilogy on Genghis Khan, and it is a very very good start to what promises to be an epic story. The second installment, The Great Khan is due out in 2010.