[This is my review as published in the June 2008 issue of The NSW Law Society Journal]

Making of a Khan

Mongol, 124 mins, rating to be confirmed,
opens 19 June.


subtitled The Untold Story
of Genghis Khan,
was a nominee for an
Academy Award for Best Foreign Lan-
guage Film at the 2008 Oscars. It was the
first ever Academy Award nomination
for Kazakhstan. It didn’t win, but it is an
impressive film nevertheless.

Mongol is an international co-produc-
tion by companies based in Germany,
Kazakhstan, Mongolia and Russia. Shoot-
ing took place in Inner Mongolia and
Kazakhstan. For these reasons alone, the
film is fascinating and beautiful.

Its leading actor Tadanobu Asano is
Japanese. He plays Genghis Khan as
a young man (called Temudgin). The
other lead male, who plays Jamulkha,
Temudgin’s blood brother and mortal
enemy, is  Chinese actor Honglei Sun.
And Temudgin’s wife, Borte, is Mongo-
lian student Khulan Chuulun, who had
never acted before. Casting for the film
took place all over the world, from Siberia
to Los Angeles. This results in the most
stunning array of faces outside a Fellini
film: yet another reason to see it.

Director Sergei Bodrov has worked
in Russian and world cinema for over
20 years. He’s part of the booming film
industry of Russia and the other former
Soviet republics which has produced such
worldwide success stories as Night Watch
and Day Watch (Bekmambetov, 2004
and 2006), Russian Ark (Sokurov, 2003),
The Return
(Zvyagintsev, 2003), and The
(Lunghin, 2006). The resurgence
of Russian and ex-Soviet cinema is such
that the Russian Film Festival held yearly
across Australia is known as the ‘Russian

Temudgin is not just a warrior, but also
a uniter of tribes and clans, and a maker
of laws. His attitude to laws is somewhat
draconian, however. He says: “Mongols
need laws. I will make them obey – even
if I have to kill half of them.” But he con-
tinues, more reasonably: “Our laws will
be simple: Don’t kill women or children.
Don’t forget your debts. Fight enemies
to the end. And never betray your Khan.”
With these laws he proposes to build a
great nation.

As Mongol opens in 1192, Temudgin
has been imprisoned by his enemies. We
then flash back 20 years to when he is nine
years old, travelling with his father across
the Mongolian steppe, to choose a bride
from among an enemy tribe, the Merkits.
This will be a diplomatic move to redress
the insult that his father gave the Merkits
when he stole his own wife – Temudgin’s
mother – from them. But the pair never
get to the Merkits. On the way, Temudgin
meets a feisty young girl, and, asserting
his already strong will, chooses her as his
future bride. This act will govern the way
his life plays out over the next 20 years,
and also introduces the formidable female
character of Borte, who will prove to be a
lifelong trusted advisor to Temudgin.

Temudgin suffers many privations on
the way to becoming leader of all the Mon-
gols. He’s beaten, tortured, jailed, starved,
chased and wounded. He also fights many
battles, even one to retrieve his kidnapped
wife – though we are told that Mongols
don’t go to war over a woman. These battle
scenes are exciting and bloody enough,
but they are also played out against truly
spectacular scenery, gorgeously photo-
graphed by two cinematographers (this
film is epic enough to need two) – Dutch-
man Rogier Stoffers and Russian Sergey

The film is set against the background
of Mongol culture. Its customs, domes-
tic life, clothing and textiles, weapons
and tools, horsemanship, and music, all
depicted in loving detail, add another
layer of interest.

Even the battle scenes do not simply
show a powerful figure of legend. Rather,
they show us the manner in which a fairly
ordinary man – indeed, a family man
– rose to immense power, using brains as
well as brawn.

The film ends somewhat abruptly, just
as Temudgin has united the tribes and is
setting out to conquer northern China.
The filmmakers intend Mongol to be the
first of a trilogy of films covering the life of
Genghis Khan. I can’t wait to find out what
he does next.