The Mongol (2007)



Director:     Sergei Bodrov. 

Starring:     Aliya (Oelun),  Tegen Ao (Charkhu),  Tadanobu Asano (Temudjin),  Ying Bai (Merchant with Golden Ring),  Khulan Chuluun (Börte),  Bao Di (Todoen),  Bayertsetseg Erdenebat (Young Borte),  Deng Ba Te Er (Daritai),  You Er (Sorgan-Shira),  Sai Xing Ga (Chiledu),  Ba Yin Qi Qi Ge (Temulun),  Ba De Rong Gui (Young Taichar),  Sun Ben Hon (Monk),  Zhang Jiong (Tangut Garrison Chief),  Amadu Mamadakov (Targutai),  Odnyam Odsuren (Young Temudjin),  He Qi (Dai-Sechen),  Li Jia Qi (Mungun),  Bu Ren (Taichar),  Su Ya La Su Rong (Girkhai),  Ba Sen (Esugei),  Honglei Sun (Jamukha),  Ba Te (Khasar),  Ba Ti (Dzhuchi),  Ba Tu (Altan),  Ji Ri Mu Tu (Boorchu),  Tunga (Sochikhel),  Amarbold Tuvshinbayar (Young Jamukha). 

Genghis Khan's slow rise to power


Spoiler Warning: below is an entire summary of the film. There are some curse words also.

Tangut Kingdom. 1192, Year of the Rat.

A young boy brings a message for Temudgin, who is kept in a cage. The monk he sent to find his wife is dead.

The Mongolian Steppe, 20 years earlier. Temudgin is only nine years old. He is traveling with his father, Esugei, on their way to the Merkit Clan. There he is to choose a bride. His own father stole his mother from that clan. But now dad needs peace, hence the trip to the Merkit Clan.

Along the way, he travelers stop at the home of a friend, Dai Sachen. Dai Sachen welcomes Esugei warmly. A young girl named Borte comes up to Temudgin. She is one year older than Temudgin. Borte says that many young men come to their people in order to choose a bride. She adds: "You should chose me!"

Esugei wrestles with a fellow and easily wins. Temudgin tells his father that he wants a bride from here. But dad says this clan is weak. Temudgin doesn’t care. With the young girls of the clan lined up, Temudgin chooses Borte. She says: "I agree." Dai Sachen agrees to the match. They can marry in five years. Before he leaves, Temudgin gives Borte a wishbone by which to remember him. On the ride back dad is upset with his son. He wanted to cement an alliance with the Merkit Clan, but now that is not possible.

A storm is coming. The travelers find a place providing some protection from the rain. Father says that all Mongols are afraid of thunder.

Continuing the journey the travelers comes upon some enemies. Remaining far from each other, the two groups exchange gifts. A comrade tells Esugei not to drink the gift of milk. It might be poisoned. But Khan Esugei says that he must follow the custom and drinks the milk. They restart their journey home. All of a sudden Esugei complains of pain, becomes dizzy, falls off his horse and dies.

At the funeral the body is dropped from the wagon onto the steppe. When the family returns to their clan Targutai and others are busy taking all the property of Esugei’s family. Mother says to Targutai that her son will avenge them. So Targutai says perhaps he should kill Temudgin now. He sends his men to chase Temudgin down. Mom tells Targutai: "Curse you! Rot in hell!"

The men bring Temudgin to Targutai, but he does not kill him. He says: "When he grows up, I’ll kill him." When the clan leaves Esugei’s family behind, Mother tells her son: "Some day you’ll have to kill him!"

It is winter time with snow on the ground. There is no place for Temudgin to hide so he starts walking to the sacred mountain. He says he had to run for his life. Walking across a frozen surface, the ice breaks and Temudgin falls linto the icy water underneath him.

A half-frozen Temudgin is found by another clan. His savior is a boy himself. His name is Jamukha. Later Temudgin asks Jamukha to be his blood brother. He agrees and they perform the ceremony.

One day on the steppe, three horsemen approach. Jamukha tells Temudgin to make a run for it. But the Targutai horsemen soon catch up with and capture Temudgin. They make him their slave. On another day Temudgin tells Targutai to tell everyone that he does not want to be Khan. Jamukha comes to the clan and as he walks past Temudgin (who has his head and two hands locked in a large block of wood), he whispers that his family is safe.

Temudgin runs away. He prays to his god Tengri. Temudgin eventually gets the wood off his hands and neck.

1186, Year of the Fire Horse. Ten Targutai men chase an older Temudgin and catch him. They partly drag him behind a horse back to the clan. Targutai is now Khan. The Khan expects respect from Temudgin, but the young man only says: "Shit is always shit." Temudgin finds himself back in another wooden stock.

One night Temudgin asks his guard for a drink of water. When the man comes over to him, Temudgin kills him using the wooden stock. He starts running away. A man named Boorchu uses his sword to remove the wooden stock. He knows who Temudgin is and that is why he helped him. Temudgin says that he will not forget Boorchu. The fellow gives Temudgin his own horse.

Temudgin, above all, wants to find Borte. He goes to her clan and she tells everyone that she wants to go with Temudgin. She gives him back the wishbone that she kept while waiting for his arrival. The two leave the clan. They go visit Temudgin’s family.

One night raiders descend on Temudgin’s family. Mother recognizes the man known as Chiledu, her first husband from the Merkit Clan. But he has not come for mother, but rather for the bride of Temudgin. But Temudgin and Borte are not at home. A fight breaks out. The raiders start burning the home. They locate the tracks of the young couple and follow it.

They find Temudgin and Borte, who jump on their horses to escape. The men chase them. Temudgin kills one of the raiders with an arrow. In turn, one of the raiders shoots an arrow into the back of Temudgin. The horse stops. Borte slaps it on the rump and tells the horse to go home. The raiders then catch Borte and take her with them to the Merkit Clan.

Mother sees Temudgin’s horse returning home with Temudgin still laying forward on the saddle.

When Temudgin is better he goes to visit his blood brother Jamukh, who already knows what happened. He tells Temudgin that Mongols don’t make war over women. He offers to bring two wives to Temudgin. But Temudgin only wants Borte. Jamukh gives in and says that they will attack the Merkits next year. Temudgin wants to attack immediately, but Jamukh prevails.

Next year Jamukh and Temudgin and their forces arrive in Merkit territory. They slowly ride through a large field with lots of big and small boulders. Jamukh is suspicious and wary. And well he should be for the Merkit jump out from behind the boulders and go to the attack. They manage to knock over Jamukh’s horse. Temudgin saves Jamukh’s life by killing the man’s attackers.

As the battle rages, Temudgin runs to the Merkit Clan housing. He has to kill four guards in order to find Borte. When he does find her, he finds the dead body of Chiledu. Borte slit his throat. Temudgin hugs a very pregnant Borte. He says the baby is his.

Reunited with Jamukh and his men. Temudgin thanks him. Jamukh wants Temudgin to stay with the clan and be his second in command. Temudgin is called away to speak to his own forces. He tells the men that he will only take 10% of the plunder and leave the rest to be divided among the troops. He also tells them not to forget about the families of the dead soldiers. This generosity endears him to his men.

Jamukh awakens to find that two of his brothers, Daritai and Altan, and their troops have left with Temudgin. Jamukh and his other brother Taichar chase after Temudgin. When they catch up to Temudgin Jamukh asks him why: "No goodbye, brother?" Temudgin apologizes but says that he cannot send the men back. All Mongols have the right to choose their leader. Jamukh and Taichar leaves. Taichar tells his brothers: " Look after our horses. I’ll be back!"

Thieves still Temudgin’s horses. Some of Temudgin’s forces give chase. They manage to kill one of the horse rustlers. Later they find out that the dead man is none other than Taichar, brother of Jamukh. This means war.

Targutai comes to Jamukh to tell him that he will kill Temudgin by himself. Jamukh is amused. He says there are only two strong clans: his and that of Temudgin.

A messenger arrives to speak to Temudgin. Jamukh is following his tracks. The odds against them surviving is 10 to 1, since Jamukh has so many more men. Borte tells Temudgin to leave the families behind, but Temudgin refuses. He takes his men and families into the mountains. There he builds a defensive position where there is a narrow pass. He then has some of his men take the families to a safe place.

The battle begins. Temudgin is defeated. He appears to be the only one of his force still alive. They enemy captures him.

Targutai tells Jamukh that he wants Temudgin alive. But Jamukh won’t give Temudgin to Targutai. When they bring Temudgin in, Jamukh speaks to him: "You say nothing. At least beg for mercy." Temudgin says he is not a beggar. Jamukh makes Temudgin a slave.

Tangut border, one year later.

Temudgin is one of the slaves for sale. The local garrison commander wants to purchase him, but the old monk advises against it. He says he see hordes of Mongols descending on the garrison. But the commander buys Temudgin anyway. He then places him in a cage to be viewed by anyone curious enough to stop and take a look. People do stop to taunt the fierce Mongol.

One day the old monk comes to speak to Temudgin. He asks Temudgin to spare his precious monastery when the terrible day arrives. Temudgin is willing to consider it if he will go and find his wife. He gives him the wishbone that Borte kept while she waited to marry Temudgin. The old Monk agrees. The monk, however, finds on one to help him. So he starts out walking to Temudgin’s Clan. He walks a long, long way but dies before he reaches the clan. Somehow Borte makes the decision to go find her husband. She and her son, Juchi, set out on the journey. They find the monk dead. Near his body is the old wishbone. Now Borte knows that Temudgin is alive.

A caravan comes along and Borte barters sex for transportation with the leader. Once Borte arrives in the city, she quickly arranges to see her husband. She gets all dressed up in an elaborate costume and goes to visit Temudgin. She gives the guards a lot of money for their silence. When they want more money she holds a knife to one of the guards’s throats and says she will pay later. Meanwhile, she throws her bridal necklace on the ground for the guards. They let her visit her husband.

Borte throws the key to her husband and he lets himself of his cell.  He travels in the coach with Borte and his two children who are like strangers to him.  They stare at their father.  Mongen, his daughter, asks her mother what about her other father.  Borte tells her to forget about him.  At a rough "hotel" they eat and then go to bed. 

Temudgin tells his son Juchi that it is about time he chose a bride.  Borte tells her husband about her great disappointment with the Mongols.  All they do is kill and steal and they have gotten worse.  Now they even kill the women and children.  Temudgin just responds:  "I know what to do with Mongols."  He tells her to take the children and go home.  Borte asks him when he will be back:  one year, two years? 

Temudgin goes to the sacred mountain again and prays for the strength he will need.  He says that the Mongols need law and adds:  "I'll get them to obey even if I have to kill half of them."

1196.  The year of the Red Dragon.  Now Temudgin has many soldiers.  They came to him because they knew he wanted to unite the Mongols to make them stronger.  But Jamukh tries to tear them apart.  Temudgin is soon in a struggle to determine who will rule Mongolia. 

Jamukh's army is bigger, but Temudgin is sure he has a better strategy.  He has an archer shoot an arrow toward Jamukh's headquarters and the arrow lands right next to Jamukh.  Jamukh launches his first wave.  Temudgin responds by sending heavily armored knights of a type to attack the first wave.  The knights do a lot of damage to Jamukh's forces, but most of them are killed.  The enemy forces chase after the few knights still alive.  The enemy is then cut down when hundreds of archers jump up from the ground and demolish what's left of Jamukh's first wave of troops. 

Jamukh sends the rest of his soldiers to the attack.  But the weather changes abruptly.  The skies darken and the lightening and thunder soon follow.  Jamukh's soldiers are so afraid that they drop to the ground to try to protect themselves from the lightening.  Temudgin walks his horse among the prostrate enemy.  The enemy is amazed that Temudgin is not at all afraid of the lightening. 

The battle is over and Temudgin has won.  Two enemy soldiers bring their Khan Targutai to Temudgin.  Temudgin tells his men to kill the two soldiers because they betrayed their Khan.  The two soldiers are killed.  Thousands of prisoners have been taken.  Temudgin tells his staff to take all captives into his army.

Back in his yurt, Temudgin speaks with the defeated Jamukh.  He tells him:  "I forgive you, brother."  Jamukh says it's too late; that he will always be a rock in his boot.  Temudgin has his men give Jamukh a horse and let him ride away. 

1206, year of the Red Tiger.  Temudgin was made Khan of all the Mongols.  He was forever known as Genghis Khan of the Great Steppe.  The ancient Tangut Kingdom was erased from the face of the earth, but the monastery survived.  Genghis Khan's reign was just beginning.   


Good movie.  Temudgin had many great challenges to face before he became Genghis Khan of the Great Steppe.  The movie covers these challenges that Temudgin faced and overcame.  In part it's an action flick.  But there also some interesting insights into Mongolian culture. 

Patrick Louis Cooney, Ph. D.


Historical Background:

Genghis Khan  (1965)  -- 1206-1227



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