Tuesday, 17 June 2008

The Good, The Bad and The Cinematic: Mongol

I was round a very good friend's house recently for an evening of generally doing jack-all. We watched something trashy on TV, I'm not sure what, and then realised that the French documentary 'Etre et Avoir' was on the wonderful BBC4. Both of us had heard good things of this documentary, and we settled down to watch it. What we hadn't counted on was my friend's housemate, a certified Illiterate Viewer.

Now, my use of this term should be in no way taken in the wrong context - I'm not mocking those who can't read (though seriously guys, you're missing out! Wait. Why write that? They certainly won't read it...) Illiterate Viewers are those people we all know who refuse to watch films with subtitles. Because, you know, nothing that dares to be in a foreign language can't be good, can it? If that were true, they'd have some sort of Foreign Film category at the Oscars, and there would be no chance of selling crap Angelina Jolie blockbusters to Eastern Europe. But yes, the housemate was an stubborn and immovable Illiterate Viewer, and we had to watch Pocahontas instead - a fine film, but hardly the peak of cinematic quality.

Anyway, my point is that if you refuse to watch a film because it is subtitled from a foreign language - whether it be French, Mandarin, Italian or, in this case, Mongolian. Some of the finest films I've ever seen have been in a language I'd confuse for gibberish were it not for the streaming lines of English at the bottom of the screen. Let's face it, Rush Hour has nothing on Hero, nor do any American spoofs on Shaolin Soccer. Even Cloverfield struggles at times to compete with the equally excellent The Host.

With that in mind, I went to see Mongol tonight - despite the box office girl checking that we were okay with it being subtitled. And - unfortunately, considering the above rant - it was average at best. Actually, no, that's unfair. For the majority of the two-hour runtime the film sat comfortably in a slighty above average position - the acting is great, the child playing the young Genghis Khan an uncomfortably forceful prescence onscreen throught his scenes. The cinematography, whilst leaps and bounds behind other, more successful Asian-based films of recent years, still was stunning and quite often moving.

But it suffered from a few fatal flaws. The overly arty representation of Khan's Lord of the Blue Skies was, essentially, a wolf in slow motion. And yes, I've had the deeper meaning explained, and no, that doesn't change the fact that it is a wolf in slow motion. Apparently the film twists the truth quite liberally at times, and it is seemingly at the points that the film feels (perhaps unsurprisingly) unbelievable. Perhaps the biggest flaw, that dropped the film a mark in the last half hour was the shameless avoidance of ten years of Khan's life - arguably the years in which he grew most as a military leader - simply in order to skip to the final act: a spectacular and fairly original battlescene, and the sort of monologue that is fast becoming atypical of both the historical and faux-historical Asian battle films of the last few years.


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