Directed by the protean and prolific Russian filmmaker Sergei Bodrov (who wrote the script with Arif Aliyev), it is, among other things, a stubborn defense of old-fashioned, grand-scale moviemaking. (It is also an old-style international co-production financed by some fairly new players in world cinema, including companies in Kazakhstan and Mongolia.) Without irony or digital effects "Mongol," the first installment in a planned trilogy, tells the story of a solitary man's rise to a position of great power.
Mr. Bodrov follows his hero, a young warrior named Temudgin (played by the Japanese actor Tadanobu Asano), from boyhood to the eve of world conquest in 1206, when he would become the Genghis Khan known and feared by millions. There are some gaps in the narrative, but the portrait that emerges is of a reformer and a unifier, a leader who consolidates rival tribes and factions and who modernizes some of the traditional Mongol ways.
At his side in these efforts are a few allies and, above all, his wife, Borte (Khulan Chuluun), to whom he is betrothed as a child and to whom he remains loyal in spite of many setbacks and temptations. When she is kidnapped by marauding Merkits, Temudgin musters a small army to bring her back, a mission that astonishes his friend Jamukha (Honglei Sun). "What Mongol ever went to war for a woman?" he wonders.
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