It has been quite a while since I was able to sit and watch a movie. I've been barely getting to the television in time for Lost, and once there, I can hardly sit still.
That changed on Sunday night when I was determined to get some movies back. It wasn't as hard as I'd thought it would be when I watched Nobel Son which had a great ensemble cast but probably thought that it was more clever that it was in reality.
Inspired and proud, I moved onto Mongol which I've had for about 2 months and have avoided because it seemed "heavy".
This movie was amazing.
I can always tell a film has moved me when the first thing I want to do is go find the history of its subject. I'd heard about Mongol before it was widely released because the director, Sergei Bodrov was in Seattle talking it up at the NWAAFF.
This movie was like many other epics-- but more beautifully shot. Think of 300 meeting LOTR. The film receives lots of comparisons to Braveheart which I think are inappropriate because although there's a love story and battle scenes that are amazing, it is much better in both scope and artistry.
The film that Arif Aliyev wrote was based upon The Secret History of the Mongols which was one of few written Mongolian histories that exist. Bodrov and Aliyev admit to taking artistic license with the piece because there were certain holes-- but they were filled well. No historical figure should be portrayed in black and white or as good OR evil, imo. People are complicated and I feel like films should represent that compliction and grey area. All of that said, portraying Temudjin's (Gengis Khan) greatness as a result of the strong women in his life (his mother is brave and strong, refusing to be a victim when her husband is poisoned at the start of the film and his wife is not only his advisor but as I commented while watching it the "original ride or die chick") and of his love of family was a good way to go. I am a sucker for a love story. I am a sucker for the vastness of an epic. I am a sucker for breath taking battle scenes where the blood looks like jewels being thrown into the air. This movie was of these things that I am a sucker for, while also remaining smart and authentic. It certainly is a love story, but it is not a love story that is demure or coy. Borte (Temudjin's wife) becomes a prostitute to save her true love. She undergoes terrible brutality and remains true (after saving her husband's life, she's kidnapped and raped repeatedly. She slits the throat of her rapist while his child is in her belly). One of my favorite lines of the film comes after she saves (for the millionith time) the life of her husband. She has another child by the man she has sold herself to for passage into China-- a girl of about 4 years. Temudjin asks about the child and tells the girl that he is her father. The girl says "What about my other father?" Borte simply states "Forget him. This is your father," and her proud face never shows a question.
And the writers knew that the idealistic love of Temudjin (and commitment to the importance of women) was not something that could be glossed over smoothly-- and they write that into the story. Temudjin's commitment to Borte is looked down upon, it's seen as his downfall in a number of ways, but damn if it just works in this film. I get both a sense of the brutal reality of Mongolian life (and those people lived hard lives on the Asian steppe) and overarching themes of beauty, idealism and romance.
And speaking of reality? I think the casting directors for Avatar could learn a bit from this movie. This film was cast with people of more than 40 nationalities (to represent the diversity that was the Mongol empire). Another favorite line? Temudjin's father tells his nine year old son about what to look for in a wife, saying "Make sure her face is flat like a lake and that her eyes are small slits. Wide eyes are the way that demons enter and she'll go mad." The woman cast as Borte (Khulan Chulun) is stunning and perfect throughout the film. She could be a statue her face is so lovely to look upon. The acting in this film is amazing. Sun Honglei got the most praise as Temudjin's savior/ally/brother/enemy-- and he does a good job, but it pales in comparison (imo) to Tadanobu Asano who plays the adult Temudjin and invokes my favorite actor of all time, Toshiro Mifune. He is able to jump from wonderous rapture to grim, frightening resolve in an instant. The movie's dialouge was in Mandarin and Mongolian-- and although my Mandarin is terrible, the smoothness of delivery was exceptional. My thing with Asano (and Mifune) is that he really commits to the emotion. When he's confused, there's no doubting that is what he's feeling. When he's enamored with the beauty of his wife (or children) he lets it show. There is a scene where he is at a market being sold into slavery-- and a high ranking official comes by and thinks about buying him. A Buddhist monk advises the guy not to buy that slave because he sees destruction about him. The official sneers and says something along the lines of "Oh, ha ha! Hey Mongol slave! You going to tear our shit down?" and the look that Asano gives the guy... could curdle milk.
Point 3: Great actors? Strong women characters? Good looking and diverse cast? Pretty? Check. But I need to talk more about the pretty. I mean really, the terrain alone is breath taking. The images of Mongolian religion are goregous. The battles (although a little gruesome and slightly unrealistic (Patrick commented that it was probably possible that Temudjin could throw a spear through a man from a distance and impale him while pinning him to a post, I don't know though. It's a stretch.) were amazing. I was on the edge of my seat and I knew how it would end. The direction of the film was to put it as Roger Ebert put it "Overwhelming" when compared to American "epics". Also? Done on a measly 20 Million dollars.
So yeah. This was great and incredibly rewarding. I loved it.