FF27 - Mongol - The Rise of Ghengis Khan

Intro by John Roderick

When talking about the great wars of history, we would be remiss not to include the conquering war wave of the Mongol Empire of Genghis Khan. In terms of territory captured in games played without a loss, the Mongols and their tiny ponies are without rivals. Weirdly, Hollywood has steered mostly clear of this epic story with the exception of a Technicolor travesty starring Omar Sharif and a really really weird and ludicrous movie starring John Wayne, both of which I'm sure we will end up watching for this show.

Maybe it's because the heroes and a great many of the conquered are from Central Asia and the only conceivable role for Brad Pitt would be in a bit part as some minor hapless Slav or Magyar unterberger getting his ass handed to him. Anyway: We jumped at the chance to watch a picture made with a majority Mongolian cast, but unfortunately this isn't much of a war film.

There are lots and lots of fight scenes where the young future Khan gets thrashed and misused and even a major battle or two, but the bulk of this 2007 production is a consistently brutal and epically beautiful origin story of the man, the myth and the legend. It's an astonishing international collaboration with Russian director Sergei Bodrov, a cast from all over East Asia, financing from Germany, Russia and Kazakhstan and shooting locations mostly in Mongolia and Kazakhstan.

Today's film picks up its story in 1192, when Genghis Khan whose name was Temüjin is trapped in a prison in western China. It flashes back to his childhood to how he met his wife Börte and then winds its way past the poisoning of his father and the usurpation of his hereditary title by a lesser member of his clan and the humiliation repeatedly of his family. In his whole life he has only brief glimpses of stability trust and friendship, mostly in his alliance with Jamukha, his patron.

Temüjin endures slavery and imprisonment, but never loses his faith that he will be reunited with Börte and restored to his rightful station in life. On his path to becoming the Khan, he introduces innumerable social and strategic innovations including the game-changing metal stirrup. He builds a loyal army and a culture quick to switch alliances, he unites the clans and eventually conquers unbelievably large swathes of the planet, mostly offscreen after this movie.

Genghis Khan's name still rings out through history: He's the founding father of Mongolia, is still reviled in Iran as a genocidal maniac, and as the great-grandfather of an awful lot of Eurasian people, including some of you. But his history is hard to tell. They were nomads. He left no monuments, no documents, no contemporary biography, and famously: No tomb.

This film was barely noticed by American audiences, earning less than six million dollars domestically, perhaps because the overlap of people who want to see a blood and guts torture epic and those who are prepared to watch a two hour horse movie in Mongolian is small. But there's something amazing about this film and the captivating life of a man who lived nearly a 1000 years ago who left such an indelible mark on history. All podcasts fear the thunder, but not Friendly Fire. Today we review Mongol - The Rise of Ghengis Khan.

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