Theatrical release poster
|Directed by||Sergei Bodrov|
|Box office||$26.5 million|
Mongol (Монгол), also known as Mongol: The Rise of Genghis Khan in the United States and Mongol: The Rise to Power of Genghis Khan in the United Kingdom, is a 2007 Russian semi-historical epic film directed by Sergei Bodrov, about the early life of Temüjin, who later came to be known as Genghis Khan. The storyline was conceived from a screenplay written by Bodrov and Arif Aliev. It was produced by Bodrov, Sergei Selyanov and Anton Melnik and stars Tadanobu Asano, Sun Honglei and Chuluuny Khulan in the main roles. Mongol explores abduction, kinship and the repercussions of war.
The film was a co-production between companies in Russia, Germany and Kazakhstan. Filming took place mainly in the People's Republic of China, principally in Inner Mongolia (the Mongol autonomous region), and in Kazakhstan. Shooting began in September 2005, and was completed in November 2006. After an initial screening at the Russian Film Festival in Vyborg on 10 August 2007, Mongol was released in Russia on 20 September 2007. It saw a limited release in the United States on 6 June 2008 grossing $5.7 million in domestic ticket sales. It additionally earned nearly 21 million in sales through international release for a combined $26.5 million in gross revenue. The film was a minor financial success after its theatrical run, and was generally met with positive critical reviews. The film was nominated for the 2007 Academy Award for Best Foreign Language Film as a submission from Kazakhstan.
The film is intended to be the first part of a trilogy about Genghis Khan, and initial work on the second part began in 2008. The trilogy project was eventually put on the shelf, but in July 2013, during a visit to the annual Naadam Festival in Ulan Bator, Bodrov told the press that the production of the sequel had started, and that it may be shot in Mongolia, as had been the intention for Mongol, before local protests, fearing that the film would not correctly portray the Mongolian people and its national hero, Genghis Khan, caused the shooting to move to Inner Mongolia and Kazakhstan.
In the first flashback, embarking on an expedition as a young boy (age 9) twenty years earlier (1172), Temüjin (Odnyam Odsuren) is accompanied by his father Yesügei (Ba Sen) to select a girl as his future wife. Temüjin meets and chooses Börte (Bayertsetseg Erdenebat), although his father wishes him to choose a mate from the Merkit tribe. Temüjin convinces his father to allow him to choose Börte. He promises to return after five years to marry her. On their way home, Temüjin's father is poisoned by an enemy tribe. As he lies dying, he tells Temüjin that he is now Khan. However, one of his father's warriors, Targutai (Amadu Mamadakov), orders the other tribesmen to loot the dead Khan's camp. Targutai spares Temüjin's life, declaring a Mongol does not kill children. After falling through the ice of a frozen lake, Temüjin is found lying down in the snow by a young boy called Jamukha (Amarbold Tuvshinbayar). The two quickly become friends and perform a traditional ceremony declaring themselves blood brothers. Targutai later captures Temüjin, holding him in captivity. Temüjin however, escapes late one night and roams the countryside. Temüjin is later seen again as a young man (Tadanobu Asano) in 1186. He once again is apprehended by Targutai, who wishes to kill him now that he is grown. Temüjin escapes a second time finding Börte (Chuluuny Khulan), and brings her back to his family. Later that night, they are attacked by the Merkit tribe led by Chiledu (Sai Xing Ga), since Temüjin's father had years before stolen his wife from one of their tribesmen. While being chased on horseback, Temüjin is shot with an arrow. Börte whips the horse which Temüjin is on, telling it to go home. Börte is captured by the Merkit leader, as Temüjin returns safely to his family.
Temüjin goes to Jamukha (Sun Honglei), who is now a Khan himself. Jamukha agrees to help him get his wife back and attack the Merkit tribe, though only after a year passes. The attack on the Merkit tribe is a success, and Temüjin finds Börte alive and Chiledu dead. However, Börte is pregnant. Despite knowing that he is not the father, Temüjin takes the son as his own. Temüjin and his men leave early the next morning, and two of Jamukha's soldiers choose to join Temüjin because he distributes more plunder to his warriors than Jamukha. Jamukha chases down Temüjin, but Temüjin refuses to send back Jamukha's combatants and horses because he explains a Mongol warrior is free to choose his leader. Jamukha warns him that his actions will lead to future conflict. Taichar (Bu Ren), Jamukha's brother, is later killed while attempting to steal back Jamukha's horses; Jamukha and Temüjin go to war. Outnumbered, Temüjin's army is quickly defeated. Jamukha declares victory and decides to make Temüjin a slave rather than execute him.
Temüjin is sold to a Tangut Garrison Chief (Zhang Jiong), despite the dire warning given to the man by a Buddhist monk (Ben Hon Sun) acting as his advisor, who senses the great potential the warrior carries and his future role in subjugating the Tangut state. While Temüjin is imprisoned, the monk pleads with him to spare his monastery when he destroys the Tangut kingdom sometime in the future. In exchange for delivering a bone fragment to Börte indicating that he is still alive, Temüjin agrees. Thereafter, the monk succeeds in delivering the bone and the message, though at the cost of his life. As a means of getting to Tangut, Börte becomes a merchant's concubine, bearing a daughter along the way. Once Börte arrives in Tangut, she abandons the merchant and bribes the guard for the key to Temüjin's cell, and the two manage to escape back to their homeland.
Temüjin, upset by the increasing loss of traditional values in Mongol society, leaves his family once more and pledges to make the Mongols abide by the law. Visiting a holy site in the mountains, Temüjin prays to "The Lord of the Great Blue Sky" and declares three rules by which Mongols must live: never kill women and children, always honor your promises and repay your debts, and never betray your Khan. Subsequently, he gathers an army to unify all of the Mongols. In 1196, Temüjin declares war over Jamukha. By 1206, Temüjin engages Jamukha, in league with his old enemy, Targutai, in battle. However, a thunderstorm arises on the steppe, terrifying Jamukha's troops and causing their unconditional surrender, as Temüjin stands triumphant (as he is the only Mongol alive who does not fear lightning). Having defeated his "blood brother", Temüjin allows Jamukha to live, while Targutai is killed by his own soldiers while attempting to flee the battle. The traitorous men are ordered to be executed by Temüjin (as they betrayed their Khan). Jamukha's surviving troops are spared and integrated into Temujin's army. Afterwards, Temüjin is designated the Khan of all the Mongols – Genghis Khan of the Great Steppe.
A postscript indicates that Genghis Khan would later go on to invade and conquer the Tangut Empire by 1227, fulfilling the monk's prophecy. While the entire civilization was destroyed by the Mongol horde, a single Buddhist monastery was left untouched, as Temüjin honored his debt to the monk.
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The premise of Mongol is the story of Genghis Khan, the Mongol leader who founded the Mongol Empire, which ruled expansive areas of Eurasia. The film depicts the early life of Temüjin, not as an evil war-mongering brute, but rather an inspiring visionary leader. Director Bodrov noted that "Russians lived under Mongolian rule for around 200 years" and that "Genghis Khan was portrayed as a monster". During the 1990s, Bodrov read a book by Russian historian Lev Gumilev entitled The Legend of the Black Arrow, which offered a more disciplined view of the Mongol leader and influenced Bodrov to create a film project about the warrior.
Bodrov spent several years researching the aspects of his story, discovering that Khan was an orphan, a slave and a combatant whom everyone tried to kill. He found difficulty in preparing the screenplay for the film due to the fact that no contemporary Mongol biography existed. The only Mongol history from the era is The Secret History of Mongols, written for the Mongol royal family some time after Genghis Khan's death in AD 1227. Author Gumilev had used the work as a historical reference and a work of significant literature. Casting for the film took place worldwide, including Mongolia; China; Russia; and in Los Angeles. Speaking on the choice of Tadanobu Asano to portray Temüjin, Bodrov commented that although it might have seemed odd to cast a Japanese actor in the role, he explained that the Mongol ruler was seen by many Japanese as one of their own. Bodrov said, "The Japanese had a very famous ancient warrior who disappeared, and they think he went to Mongolia and became Genghis Khan. He's a national hero, Genghis Khan. Mongolians can claim he's Mongolian, but the Japanese, they think they know who he is." Bodrov felt casting actor Sun Honglei as Jamukha was a perfect mix of "gravity and humor" for the role. Describing the character interaction between Asano and Honglei, he noted "They're completely different people, Temüjin and Jamukha, but they have a strong relationship, strong feelings between them." Aside from the Chinese and Japanese actors for those roles, the rest of the cast were Mongolian. It marked the first time a tale of Genghis Khan would be acted by Asians, this in contrast to such Hollywood and European attempts like the 1956 movie flop The Conqueror and the 1965 film Genghis Khan with Omar Sharif.
The film was initially intended to be shot in Mongolia, but the plans caused much protest in the country, as many Mongolians feared that it would not correctly portray their people and their national hero. As a consequence, shooting was moved to the Chinese autonomous region Inner Mongolia and to Kazakhstan.
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Filming began in 2005, lasting 25 weeks and taking place in China, Mongolia and Kazakhstan. Production designer Dashi Namdakov helped to recreate the pastoral lifestyle of the nomadic tribesmen. Namdakov is originally from a Russian region which borders Mongolia and is home to many ethnic Mongols. Bodrov remarked, "Dashi has the Mongol culture in his bones and knows how to approach this material." To help create some of the horse-mounted stunt sequences, Bodrov called upon seasoned stuntmen from Kazakhstan and Kyrgyzstan, whom he was familiar with from the production of Nomad. Describing some of the stunt work, Bodrov claimed: "Not a single horse was hurt on this film. There's a line in the movie, when young Jamukha tells Temüjin, 'For Mongol, horse is more important than woman.' And that's how it is with the Kazakh and Kyrgyz stunt people. They took very good care of the horses and were very conscientious." Bodrov collaborated on the film with editors Zach Staenberg and Valdís Óskarsdóttir.
Mongol was first released in Russia and Ukraine on 20 September 2007. The film then premiered in cinemas in Turkey on 14 March 2008. Between April and December 2008, Mongol was released in various countries throughout the Middle East, Europe and Africa. France, Algeria, Monaco, Morocco and Tunisia shared a release date of 9 April 2008. In the United States and the United Kingdom, the film was released on 6 June 2008. In 2009, certain Asian Pacific countries such as Singapore and Malaysia saw release dates for the film. Within Latin America, Argentina saw a release for the film on 11 March, while Colombia began screenings on 9 April. The film grossed $20,821,749 in non-US box office totals.
In the United States, the film premiered in cinemas on 6 June 2008. During its opening weekend, the film opened in 22nd place grossing $135,326 in business showing at 5 locations. The film's revenue dropped by 17% in its second week of release, earning $112,212. For that particular weekend, the film fell to 25th place screening in 5 theaters. During the film's final release week in theaters, Mongol opened in a distant 80th place with $11,503 in revenue. The film went on to top out domestically at $5,705,761 in total ticket sales through a 14-week theatrical run. Internationally, the film took in an additional $20,821,749 in box office business for a combined worldwide total of $26,527,510. For 2008 as a whole, the film would cumulatively rank at a box office performance position of 167.
Following its cinematic release in theaters, the Region 1 Code widescreen edition of the film was released on DVD in the United States on 14 October 2008. Special features for the DVD include; scene selections, subtitles in English and Spanish, and subtitles in English for the hearing impaired.
The widescreen hi-definition Blu-ray Disc version of the film was also released on 14 October 2008. Special features include; scene selections and subtitles in English and Spanish. A supplemental viewing option for the film in the media format of Video on demand is currently available too.
Among mainstream critics in the U.S., the film received mostly positive reviews. Rotten Tomatoes reported that 86% of 100 sampled critics gave the film a positive review, with an average score of 7 out of 10. At Metacritic, which assigns a weighted average out of 100 to critics' reviews, the film received a score of 74 based on 27 reviews. However, the film was criticized in Mongolia due to its factual errors and historical inaccuracies.
Claudia Puig of USA Today, said the film "has a visceral energy with powerful battle sequences and also scenes of striking and serene physical beauty." Noting a flaw, she did comment that Mongol might have included "one battle too many." Although overall, she concluded the film was "an exotic saga that compels, moves and envelops us with its grand and captivating story."
|"Centered on the rise of Genghis Khan, the film is an enthralling tale, in the style of a David Lean saga, with similarly gorgeous cinematography. It combines a sprawling adventure saga with romance, family drama and riveting action sequences."|
|—Claudia Puig, writing in USA Today|
Jonathan Kiefer, writing in the Sacramento News & Review, said "At once sweeping and intimately confidential, with durably magnetic performances by Japan's Asano Tadanobu as the adored warlord and China's Honglei Sun as Jamukha, his blood brother and eventual enemy, Mongol, a 2007 Best Foreign Language Film Oscar nominee, has to be by far the best action epic of 12th- and 13th-century Asian nomads you’ll see". He emphatically believed Bodrov's film was "both ancient and authentic." He added that it was "commendably unhurried, and the scope swells up in a way that feels organic to a character-driven story".
Equally impressed, Walter Addiego in the San Francisco Chronicle, wrote that the film offers "everything you would want from an imposing historical drama: furious battles between mass armies, unquenchable love between husband and wife, blood brothers who become deadly enemies, and many episodes of betrayal and treachery". Concerning cinematography, he believed the film included "plenty of haunting landscapes, gorgeously photographed by Sergei Trofimov on location in China, Kazakhstan and Mongolia, along with the sort of warfare scenes that define epics".
Writing for The Boston Globe, Wesley Morris exuberantly exclaimed that Mongol "actually works as an old-fashioned production - one with breathtaking mohawks, a scary yoking, one daring escape, hottish sex, ice, snow, braying sheep, blood oaths, dehydrating dunes, throat singing, a nighttime urination, kidnapping, charged reunions, and relatively authentic entertainment values."
Film critic Roger Ebert writing in the Chicago Sun-Times, called the film a "visual spectacle, it is all but overwhelming, putting to shame some of the recent historical epics from Hollywood." Summing up, Ebert wrote "The nuances of an ancient and ingeniously developed culture are passed over, and it cannot be denied that Mongol is relentlessly entertaining as an action picture."
|"Mongol is a ferocious film, blood-soaked, pausing occasionally for passionate romance and more frequently for torture."|
|—Roger Ebert, writing for the Chicago Sun-Times|
A.O. Scott of The New York Times, stated that Mongol was a "big, ponderous epic, its beautifully composed landscape shots punctuated by thundering hooves and bloody, slow-motion battle sequences." Scott approved of how the film encompassed "rich ethnographic detail and enough dramatic intrigue to sustain a viewer's interest through the slower stretches."
Similarly, Joe Morgenstern wrote in The Wall Street Journal that the film consisted of battle scenes which were as "notable for their clarity as their intensity; we can follow the strategies, get a sense of who's losing and who's winning. The physical production is sumptuous." Morgenstern affirmed that Mongol was "an austere epic that turns the stuff of pulp adventure into a persuasive take on ancient history."
Lisa Schwarzbaum writing for Entertainment Weekly lauded the visual qualities of the film, remarking how Mongol "contrasts images of sweeping landscape and propulsive battle with potent scenes of emotional intimacy", while also referring to its "quite grand, quite exotic, David Lean-style epic" resemblance.
The film however, was not without its detractors. Marc Savlov of The Austin Chronicle, viewed the film as "broken, beleaguered", and a "belittled nation's payback for the indignities inflicted upon them by Borat."
Also lukewarm, Kyle Smith of the New York Post commented that the film combined the "intelligence of an action movie with the excitement of an art-house release" making Mongol "as dry as summer in the Gobi Desert." Smith did compliment director Bodrov on staging a "couple of splattery yet artful battle scenes". But ultimately thought the film "really isn't worth leaving your yurt for."
In another unfavorable opinion, author Tom Hoskyns of The Independent described the film as being "very thin plot-wise." Hoskyns commended the "desolate landscapes and seasonal variations", but he was not excited about the repetitious nature of the story showing the "hero getting repeatedly captured and escaping."
Joshua Rothkopf of Time Out, added to the negative sentiment by saying Mongol was a "Russian-produced dud." He noted that it included "Ridiculous dialogue and Neanderthal motivations" as well as bearing "little relation to the raw, immediate work of his countrymates—like Andrei Tarkovsky, whose epic Andrei Rublev really gives you a sense of the dirt and desperation."
The film was nominated and won several awards in 2007–09. Various critics included the film on their lists of the top 10 best films of 2008. Mike Russell of The Oregonian named it the 5th best film of 2008, Lawrence Toppman of The Charlotte Observer named it the 8th best film of 2008, and V.A. Musetto of the New York Post also named it the 8th best film of 2008.
|80th Academy Awards||Best Foreign Language Film||Nominated|
|2007 Asia Pacific Screen Awards||Best Achievement in Cinematography||Sergey Trofimov||Nominated|
|2nd Asian Film Awards||Best Supporting Actor||Sun Honglei||Won|
|Broadcast Film Critics Association Awards 2008||Best Foreign Language Film||Nominated|
|European Film Awards 2008||Best Cinematographer||Sergey Trofimov, Rogier Stoffers||Nominated|
|Best European Film||Sergey Bodrov||Nominated|
|6th Golden Eagle Awards||Best Costume Design||Karin Lohr||Won|
|Best Sound Design||Stephan Konken||Won|
|2009 40th NAACP Image Awards||Outstanding Foreign Motion Picture||Nominated|
|Las Vegas Film Critics Society Awards 2008||Best Foreign Language Film||Won|
|2008 National Board of Review of Motion Pictures Awards||Best Foreign Language Film||Won|
|2008 Nika Awards||Best Cinematography||Sergey Trofimov, Rogier Stoffers||Won|
|Best Costume Design||Karin Lohr||Won|
|Best Director||Sergey Bodrov||Won|
|Best Production Design||Dashi Namdakov, Yelena Zhukova||Won|
|Best Sound||Stephan Konken||Won|
The Great Khan (Великий Хан) is the provisional title for the second installment of Bodrov's planned trilogy on the life of Temüjin, Genghis Khan. The Mongolian pop singer, Amarkhuu Borkhuu, was offered a role, but declined. The trilogy project was eventually put on the shelf, but in July 2013, during a visit to the annual Naadam Festival in Ulan Bator, Bodrov told the press that the production of the sequel had started again.
The soundtrack for Mongol, was released in the United States by the Varèse Sarabande music label on 29 July 2008. The score for the film was composed by Tuomas Kantelinen, with additional music orchestrated by the Mongolian folk rock band Altan Urag.
|Mongol: Original Motion Picture Soundtrack|
|Film score by Tuomas Kantelinen|
|Mongol: Original Motion Picture Soundtrack|
|2.||"At the Fireplace: Composed and Performed by Altan Urag"||0:48|
|4.||"Chase 1: Composed and Performed by Altan Urag"||0:51|
|7.||"Funeral and Robbery: Composed and Performed by Altan Urag"||2:30|
|10.||"Chase 2: Composed and Performed by Altan Urag"||1:36|
|15.||"Jamukha is Following"||1:30|
|19.||"Joy in Mongolia: Composed and Performed by Altan Urag"||3:07|
|20.||"Final Battle, Showing Strength"||2:15|
|21.||"Final Battle, Tactical Order"||0:36|
|22.||"Final Battle, The First Attachment"||1:21|
|23.||"Final Battle, Death by Arrows"||1:55|
|25.||"Victory to Khan"||1:36|
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