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Asian Film Bucket: Mongol

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    I saw Mongol, directed by Sergei Bodrov, August 1st.

    Although the film isn’t exactly history, and it is a somewhat flawed entertainment, (the descriptions of lead actor Tadanobu Asano as a cross between Johnny Depp and Toshiro Mifune were wrong on both counts) you could do worse than spend some virtual time in the grasslands and mountains of Mongolia.

    You might think of this film as “Genghis Khan-the Early Years”. It picks up with the boy Temudjin (the future G.K) selecting his future wife. His tumultuous, perilous early boyhood is followed by his tumultuous, perilous early manhood through to his uniting a big chunk of Mongol forces into an army (the army formation occurs inexplicably and off-camera). He doesn’t get to conquering the world in this film, so, lord, I expect there’s a sequel.

    The film is conceived as an epic-and that means huge, expansive landscapes, intimate closeups and romantic content-and lots of battles and fights. The battles are unfortunately aided by CGI-and, honestly, it’s getting a bit tiresome. Someone mentioned that you get not only the ketchup but the ketchup bottle-the cgi “blood” comes with a penumbra of a transparent, gelatinous quality-once I had read the “ketchup and bottle” bit it stayed with me, and that’s all I could see.

    There is one gratuitous sex scene-and, though filmed as shadows seen through a sheet-the sounds and shadows reach the ears and eyes of the children and us-and it made me squirm uncomfortably. Although the little boy reassures his sister “that’s o.k….it’s our father”-all I could think of was that just previously our hero had been released from imprisonment where his skin had somehow morphed into an alligator/snake. First of all, I didn’t know why imprisonment made your skin turn into an alligator/snake. It was as if the art department had had too much fun with the effect and nobody stopped to say “but that looks ridiculous and anyway, what is it supposed to represent?” It was a very sort-of obvious makeup job. And, then, his wife rescues him and they have sex immediately-yuck! At least take a bath! I know you’re a Mongol, but, c’mon. For real? Yoiks. And, in front of the kids!…well, maybe that’s a Mongol thing?

    There’s a wonderful character that I found a lot more entertaining and compelling than that of the hero (and I am disappointed to mention this, ‘cuz Asano has been “Zatoichi”-Japan’s beloved character) and that seductive character was his “brother”/enemy Jamukha, played by the actor Sun Honglei. That guy rocks. He’s funny, quirky, good-looking, interesting, and he does this low-voice song thing (he is also a singer) that is his “schtick”. A critic thought his schtick was cutting his hair before a battle (Jamukha is the only Mongol with a shaved head) but that’s overstated.

    The Rotten Tomatoes tomatometer gives the film an 88% which seems about right to me.


    Vili Maunula

    Thanks for the review, Coco!

    I made a slight edit to your post and the title of this topic. Rather than having a single long topic for all Asian films, let’s simply have individual topics for every Asian film that we might want to discuss in the future. It will later on be easier to locate the discussions that way.



    Its one of the few movies I’ve managed to catch in the cinema this year. I must admit I really enjoyed it, despite it being of dubious historical merit, but then I’m a sucker for big historical epics, even the bad ones. By any standards, he was a genocidal butcher, but I guess a longer look at history allows us to overlook a few million dead. 10 years ago I traveled in remote areas in Chinese Inner Mongolia. Every yurt had a little altar to GK. I was told that this was less to do with devotion to his memory, more to do with the fact that the Mongolians knew it really pissed the Han Chinese off to see them.

    I did find the movie constructed in a very curious way – very episodic, with some large chunks apparently left out. I suspect it was one of those movies that suffered by having too many hands in the editing suite. I guess there is a longer version awaiting TV episode release or something like that (I read somewhere its intended as part 1 of a trilogy). Or maybe it’ll turn up in a pachinko parlour near you, just like the new Seven Samurai (I still can’t get my head around that one).

    The great pity is that the director lost his nerve and put in lots of fairly gratuitous battle scenes and that one sex scene, when the really fascinating part of the story was those parts that looked at Mongolian society, and how it was that one man united all those tribes into a world beating army.

    I agree that Sun Honglai was very good, although personally I thought that the actress who played Borte, his wife, was great. Asano looks good, but on the few occasions I’ve seen him I found him very bland. I think he was in Cafe Lumiere, the tribute to Ozu? I thought he was badly miscast in that film, I really disliked it. There is a character in Haruki Murakami’s novel Dance Dance Dance who is an easygoing but very shallow and successful actor. For some reason, when i read that book I thought that Murakami was writing about Asani – very unfair I know as the character ended up topping himself in a typically Murakami way.

    BTW, I am reliably informed Mongolians do the horizontal jogging thing in the same room as the rest of the family, its just that they usually sleep under so many layers of blankets nobody notices…!



    Ha! Ugetsu-good call on Asano. From what is in the records, (there isn’t that much) G.K had reddish hair and greenish eyes. Asano’s amber eyes and lighter hair are a good enough approximation for me-he looks awright. But, he’s bland. No doubt about it.

    So, the gratuitous sex thing: I’m not shocked by the whole family in one room thing (which, I think was meant to be “heartwarming”-and, actually, there was that, too…sans a western overlay of Judeo/Christian guilt, hey, it’s a normal thing, right?) no, it was the ridiculously odd timing of it and the art department skin effect thing-which seemed a particularly strange, bad choice. (You shouldn’t be ricocheted out of your suspension of disbelief by bad art. It was the first time in the film when I thought “huh? what the hell…?”).There were about fifteen other times when a sex scene would have made sense, and this was the one time when it wouldn’t.

    The film, despite pacing issues, strange editing decisions, odd story elipses, is still a pretty enjoyable experience.

    I still vote for Sun Honglei as a potential new “crush”. He cracked me up, and had that combo that is irresistable to women: funny, but with a dangerous side. I dunno why we love that so. And, although the grown Borte was fine, for me, the child Borte was awesome. I loved that kid.

    Like you, I especially liked spending some time in the virtual Mongol environment-(I envy your realtime experience) and it reminded me of Tibet in many ways (where I spent some time for the past two summers). In fact, nomadic Tibetans with their sheepskin coats, long glossy braids, daggers tucked in their belts (and now, cellphones!) still have that earthy superstar thing. If I could cram a few more lives in this one, I would spend some time on the shores of Nam Tso with a guy I saw in the Bharkor last summer.

    Vili, the site is dependent on your organizational skills, and you know what’s going to work best. I trust you.



    Nice review.

    I haven’t seen the movie, so I have no idea how the sex scene fits in. Most however are really plot distracting, ruin the pacing of movie, and take the audience out of the movie. I really dont see the point in the showing of it-ever. The audience know how it all works, it need not be seen, for me it’s just awkward and a cheap movie device use too much.

    And I got nothing against sex by any means, just it doesn’t belong in movies.

    Much goes the same with over-the-top battles, but at least those can be mixed in easily with the thematic of a movie. Sex unless it defines the movies, only goes to break it up.


    Vili Maunula

    You guys have got me pretty interested in this, so I did some extra research, which got me even more interested. Too bad the film is in Mongolian and Mandarin, which means that my only chance of seeing it in Hungary (whenever it is that it arrives here) will be with either Hungarian dubbing or Hungarian subtitles. I guess I’ll just wait until the DVD release.

    The music for the film, it seems, was composed by a Finn. I didn’t know Finland had film composers. 😉



    I think if you heard the theme music you would still be of the opinion Finland doesn’t have any film composers…..!



    Tuomas Kantelinen’s music works well in the film, and is pleasant on its own. Did you listen to it on the site? And, Vili, one of my fave pieces of music is by your countryman Sibelius: The Swan of Tuonela.



    I watched this film Saturday and Coco makes a good review.

    Such things like the magical appearance of a large army, really was in bad judgment. For those you havent seen it, the main character has nothing and no one and wonders the land, but all of sudden when required to fight in a battle he desires, he find a large army,only to go back being all by himself later on. Towards the end, he raises unexplained massive army, when only moments ago, it was shown his entire smaller, previous army was all killed.

    The fights were not bad, but as time went on they got very over-the-top, and the blood did indeed get out-of-hand.

    I didnt find the sex scene at all bad, some kids did witness it, but I would think it would fairly normal giving the times and living locations, and they acted as so, more or less ignoring it. It was some dirty sex, and a bath should of gone first, but baths somehow find a way to become very unimportant when you’ve been lock up for some time. 😉

    I agree with coco on the make up part, the dirty skin, was indeed too much of something not needed. Now sweat and dusty condition, along with baking in the sun could result in what’s shown, but they again went over-the-top.

    The film really needed some over-hauling, in the end I would call the story, directing, and cinematography lacking, but still worth watching. Or to speak like a producer, the movie “needs more salt”

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