Associated Press
Tadanobu Asano plays the young Genghis Khan in "Mongol."
MONGOL — *** — Tadanobu Asano, Honglei Sun, Khulan Chuluun; in Mongolian, with English subtitles; rated R (violence, gore, brief sex, profanity, slurs, brief drugs, brief partial nudity)

As good as it is, "Mongol" still makes you wonder what someone like the late Akira Kurosawa would have done with this material.

That's not meant as a slight against Russian filmmaker Sergei Bodrov, who manages to stage a pretty impressive and involving epic on a fraction of a Hollywood blockbuster budget.

But it feels a little bit like he's making a Kurosawa homage. Also, it's a bit episodic and disjointed — which suggests that this cut of the movie has been trimmed down from a longer, more cohesive version. Allegedly this is the first film in a planned trilogy about legendary 13th-century Mongolian conqueror Genghis Khan.

Co-screenwriter/director Bodrov attempts to show how the young Temudjin (played at different ages by Odnyam Odsuren and Japanese actor Tadanobu Asano) — as he was known then — rose to power.

This movie covers portions of his life in which he wisely selects his bride (Bayertsetseg Erdenebat and Khulan Chuluun), and then loses his father, Esugei (Ba Sen), an influential Mongolian leader who was fatally poisoned.

While Temudjin should have been the next in line, his jealous rivals imprison the youngster at first and then later force him into exile when it becomes clear they can't hold him for long.

Fortunately, another outcast named Jamukha takes pity on the nearly frozen and starving Temudjin, rescuing him from certain death. But later Temudjin goes to war with his new blood-brother (Honglei Sun) when it becomes clear they both want to rule the land.

Again, what Bodrov is able to do with a limited budget is impressive. (Estimates place the film's budget at a "paltry" $20 million.)

And even though the results might not be as stunning as Kurosawa's epics, the film certainly has its highlights, especially the often-bloody battle scenes.

Also, the cast is terrific. Surprisingly, the film's most commanding performance comes from Sun, whose facial expressions speak volumes.

"Mongol" is rated R for strong scenes of violent action (including arrow fire, sword play, slashings and stabbings, and some violence against women), some graphic gore and blood, a pair of brief sex scenes, scattered profanity, racial and other derogatory slurs, brief drug content (poisons and herbal remedies), and brief partial female nudity. Running time: 126 minutes.


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