A year ago, when I first arrived in San Francisco, I went to a little place called The 4-Star Theatre and saw Rescue Dawn. Today I decided to go back for the first time since then and complete my San Francisco stay by seeing Mongol. Since Mongol is leaving the 4-Star on Thursday they had moved it to their tiny, 40 seat screening room, in which me, an old Chinese guy, and my Westerns professor (Jim Kitses) sat in creaky chairs and watched this beautifully shot bio-pic.
Mongol is somewhat unexpected. What I have heard about Ghengis Kahn in the past has been largely uncomplimentary, to say the least. What with him being a savage murderer and all. Mongol tells a completely different story of a brave, stoic, well-intentioned man trying to unite his people and take revenge on their cultural enemies.
What I learned from Mongol is pretty simple: being a Mongol sucked. Amidst the poisoning, stealing, raping, and pillaging there are bouts of slavery and pretty fickle brotherhood. Not to mention the fact that you live in what appears to be a completely barren wasteland in houses that are easily set on fire.
Maybe I’m being too harsh on the Mongols of yesteryear. Mongolia does, after all, resemble a prettier Wyoming, which can be very appealing to some. And everything seems to go much better for the Mongol women and children, who should never be killed by Mongol law. Still, Ghengis – known in his younger years and in this movie as Temudjin – has a rough time of it, spending years in a cage only to get out and have to fight against his brother.
What was spectacular about this film was the time and faith it took to get to the action sequences that are expected. Mixing spiritualism and rolling cinematography, the film spends much more time on Tadanobu Asano’s face than it does on his sword. Then when it does get around to the three or four action sequences, these scenes are shot impeccably with 300-esque blood splatters (minus the slo-mo) and uncomfortable close-ups.
This is a big-screen viewing. In fact, I wonder if my return to Mongol will be as spectacular without the run-down theatre setting, stale popcorn smell, and old man chuckles. Regardless, Mongol is far from a waste of time.