With the worldwide success of 1999′s Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon there has been a greatly increased interest in both historical and mythological epics from East Asia, especially China and Japan. Recently, Mongolian filmmakers have gotten involved in the game, and in Genghis: The Legend of the Ten, directors D. Jolbayar and U. Shagdarsuren use the most famous Mongolian of all, Genghis Khan himself, to lure the viewers in.
What makes this a vastly different approach than other recent Genghis-centered films, however, is that this Genghis-centered film isn’t really about Genghis at all.
Genghis himself is very much a MacGuffin, as he never actually makes an appearance. Instead, he appears to the viewers only as a divine entity, present only in the orders passed to the characters through army generals. What the film does show is the story of a 10-man army unit, called “Aravt” (Mongol for “ten”). This team of soldiers is sent on a mission to find a revered doctor, who lives in a mountainous forest.
En route they find and save an abandoned baby, which turns out to be the child of an enemy soldier, who now thinks the squad killed his family, thus giving them chase with his own team of eeeeevil soldiers.
With good chemistry between the members of the Aravt, some stylized and quite brutal battle scenes in the later half of the film and a sprinkling of old-fashioned philosophy throughout, the film has some of the ingredients to make a memorable experience. Unfortunately though, the entire affair is utterly underwhelming.
The personal empathy built up towards the characters, especially through some very amusing conversation scenes, disintegrates when the film takes a painfully generic turn in the third act. In a world where seemingly everyone is made up of a little bit of good as well as bad, the villain turns out to be disappointingly one-dimensional, thus taking the excitement out of the chase, and killing off a few of the heroes doesn’t salvage that. Furthermore, the lone female character devolves from an object of affection to simply an object as the film winds down to its clichéd conclusion.
The voice-over narration feels more like a biased history lesson on the greatness of Genghis Khan and his doctrine than a narrative device, rendering it more annoying than interesting. The music is Generic Journey Epic Film Music and feels out of rhythm with the often potentially intimate scenes on-screen. The few moments where it’s toned down and sounds more local to the story’s origin are by far the best. Finally, the film and sound editing is often jittery and even out of sync at times (that may possibly be an issue with the screener DVD, but it affects the viewing nonetheless).
Final Verdict: Many great adventure epics have come from the Far East in recent years. Genghis: The Legend of the Ten tries and fails to be one of them.