Violent Beauty

Though it's showing in art-house theaters, 'Mongol' is the best action film of the year

If I were Genghis Khan, I would totally conquer. I would, like, conquer Mongolia, and then, probably, if I had time, whatever neighboring states had pissed me off. Also, I would kill dudes with a sword, and totally rule. And in Mongol, the latest biopic on the great Khan, he does just that, so, you know: awesome.

The best thing about Mongol is that it's being marketed as an art-house flick, so you can be all highbrow and pretentious and say, "Yes, I viewed this cinematic treasure, and was moved not only by the director Sergei Bodrov's immersive sense of place and time, but, more importantly, by the expansive artistry of cinematographers Rogier Stoffers and Sergei Trofimov, which I found reminiscent of Tisse's work on Eisenstein's epics."

But, in fact, what you'll have seen is the best action film of the year, and probably of the last 2.6 years, since it's the only one with epic battle scenes featuring more Mongols per minute than any other film since Spike Lee's Million Mongol March, which was kind of preachy and didn't have enough archery sequences.

The film starts out with young Genghis Khan, known then as Temudjin, riding off to find a wife. It's a little strange, because Temudjin is only 9 at the time, but it's like Eleanor Roosevelt always said: There's no time like the present for wife-shopping. Temudjin's dad, Esugei, a chieftain of the Kiyad tribe, thinks it's important for Temudjin to find a wife from the Merkit tribe in order to forge an alliance. Unfortunately, Temudjin decides that he wants a wife from a different tribe, and as anyone who's tried to deal with a 9-year-old boy knows, you're better off just giving him the wife he wants.

So then Temudjin's dad gets poisoned by Tatars (not the sauce; the people), and then Temudjin's tribe rejects him as leader because, you know: 9 years old. So he wanders the wilderness in exile, holding a haunting grudge against his enemy Targutai, and finding an alliance with a young man named Jamukha, who adopts him as a brother.

All of this brings up an important point: Mongols' names are way cool. If you knew three dudes named Temudjin, Targutai and Jamukha, and one of them was your enemy, and one of them was your blood brother, you would pretty much spend all your time smelling like a supermodel's underwear.

Anyway, there's more murder and mayhem, and a totally awesome scene in which Targutai puts giant wooden handcuffs around Temudjin's wrists and head, and then Temudjin looks like he's got his head stuck in a desk, and then he totally goes to his guard, "Bring me some water," and the guard is like, "No way," and Temudjin's all, "C'mon, I wanna wash the taste of your mother out of my mouth," and the guard is all, "Yo!" and Temudjin uses the giant wooden handcuffs to smash the guard's head in, which is so cool that John McCain is now telling people that he did that, and Barack Obama is all, "No way, I invented that!" because the best way to be president is to use giant wooden handcuffs that are wrapped around your neck to kill a dude. Word.

But this brings up another important point that Mongol gets across, and I think this is a good lesson, not just for politicians, but as a general ethical rule, and that is: If you capture Genghis Khan, you should totally kill him, because otherwise, he'll sit there thinking of ways to kick your ass, and then he'll stop thinking about it and just totally kick your ass.

Which is what happens repeatedly in Mongol. The best part of this film, though, is the section in which Genghis Khan has no friends and lives on some desolate plain, and he's hanging out with just his wife and the two kids that his wife had by other men, and he's all, "That's cool, whatever; let's play catch." And then he gets a weird look on his face, and then he says to his wife, "I'm going out for, like, a while," and then he rides off all by himself, and in the very next scene, he has a huge army. Huge. And you're all, "Is it that easy to get an army in 13th-century Mongolia?" And it must be, because Genghis Khan did it between scenes.

Then arrows rain, and thunder flashes, and about a zillion Mongolians make war grunts, and then you know: Mongol. Awesome.

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