DVD Review: By the Will of Genghis Khan

Genghis Khan. Ruler of the Mongol Empire that stretched from China to Eastern Europe. His name alone evokes an image of scores of fierce horsemen working together to conquer most of the Eurasian continent in the 1200s. Even today, tales of his exploits are legendary.

The film By the Will of Genghis Khan follows the story from before his birth to his rise in power. Like many legendary figures, his story is one of heroic highs and tragic lows and this film shows it as such. I was struck by the parallels with other mythic characters in history. His trials present obstacles he must work around and learn from. But like the hero from Joseph Campbell‘s The Hero With A Thousand Faces, his life experiences show him as both being human and more than human with the gift to come back from each trial stronger than before.

When he gets married and his pregnant wife is stolen from him, he begins gathering the forces he will need to find her again. From that point on, he amasses power and friends into a massive force he uses to affect change everywhere he goes. Of course, not everyone is on board with his plans and both politics and ambition get in the way occasionally. Though he fights for peace, he must start and win a war.

Through it all, I felt a humility and a strong sense of honor. The old ways are followed, from sacrifices to the spirits, to marriage ceremonies and honoring the gods after the birth of a son. Rites, rituals, and laws guided the actions of these people from the steppes. The Mongols were a simple people who lived off the land and fiercely defended their way of life.

Directed by Andrei Borissov, the film stars Eduard Ondar, Gernot Grimm, Oleg Taktarov (National Trasure, Bad Boys II) and Cary Hiroyuki-Tagawa (TV’s Heroes, Memoirs of a Geisha, and Mortal Kombat).

Shot on location in Russia and Mongolia, the cinematography is simply breathtaking in places. All the seasons are represented beautifully and you can see why the Mongol people would fight for their land.

However, though I appreciate the artistry and intent behind the picture, I have to admit that it felt ultimately like a marketing campaign for Genghis Khan. I wanted to like By the Will of Genghis Khan more than I did, but I’d encourage you to check it out if you’re interested in learning more about this larger than life character from history.

This article first appeared at BlogCritics.org here.

–Fitz

p.s. For more about the movie or Genghis Khan, see below:

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DVD Review: The Good, The Bad, The Weird

Hi there,

It’s been a long time since I watched a movie where every time I thought the action had peaked, it managed to one-up itself again. How director Kim Ji-woon managed to hold The Good, The Bad, The Weird together is beyond me. Somehow he blended spaghetti Westerns, classic war movies, chase scenes, horses, explosions, and some Quentin Tarantino attitude into a story that survives mostly intact from beginning to end.

At its core, The Good, The Bad, The Weird is about three men and a map. 1930s Manchuria in Ji-woon’s view is quite reminiscent of the Wild West of the late 1800s. Outlaws, natives, and armies are all fighting for land and resources to call their own. A treasure map is being sold to the Japanese, only to be stolen back after the transaction takes place on a train… Unfortunately, the train is being robbed by “The Weird” – Yoon Tae-goo (Kang-ho Song, The Host, The Thirst).

When Tae-goo robs the train, he stumbles into the car with the Japanese banker and robs them at gunpoint. As this is happening, “The Bad” – Park Chang-yi (Byung-hun Lee, G.I. Joe: The Rise of Cobra) and his gang are stopping the train and getting everyone off so they can get the map themselves. Unfortunately, the sudden stop causes Tae-goo to kill everyone he is robbing. While he’s trying to escape the train with his newfound wealth, “The Good” – bounty hunter Park Do-won (Woo-sung Jung) and Chang-yi get into a gun battle.

The rest of the film is one long chase sequence. Tae-goo is chased and caught by Do-won and the two of them are chased by Chang-yi. Though Do-won initially only wants to bring in the other two criminals, eventually he starts to be enchanted by the idea of buried treasure. Ultimately it comes down to a showdown in the desert near the treasure. Who will win?

As I said in the beginning, the whole movie is a series of scenes “one-upping” each other. We go from trains and motorcycles to horses, Jeeps, and artillery. Near the finale, there is an amazing scene where you see an entire field of men on horseback chasing Tae-goo on a motorcycle. Of course, that’s right before the Japanese army starts launching explosives into the fray…

Is this a perfect movie? Not really. Was it fun? Heck yes!

Though I found at least one continuity issue where Tae-goo leaves a brothel in the desert with a group of rescued kids all together on his motorcycle in one scene and then a couple of scenes later the kids are gone and Tae-goo is alone… It didn’t really detract from the frenetic action of the 130 minute film.

The Good, The Bad, The Weird wants to be a Western, but its Asian roots are what makes this movie work. Sure there are horses, train robberies, and lots of gun battles – but the presentation, stunts, and wire work are definitely from the world of martial arts movies.

Beyond that, it’s non-stop action from the train robbery to the gunfight at the end and the subtitles never got in the way for me. I absolutely love Kang-ho Song. He has an amazing gift for portraying both the hapless hero and the knowing villain. Playing the simpleminded father in The Host trying to save his daughter, there was an “everyman” quality that really appealed to me. His portrayal of Tae-goo as a gleeful bandit seeking enough money to retire to a simple farmer’s life has that same quality.

There are several extras on the DVD, including some highlight reels, interviews, and behind-the-scenes footage. Of all the extras, it’s the “Making Of” features #1 and #2 that were the most fun. The chaos involved with the production was absolutely massive. How they could keep on track, filming on location in a Chinese desert with all the horses, people, and explosions is beyond me.

The Good, The Bad, The Weird was quite popular at several of the major film festivals around the world. It debuted (partially unfinished) at Cannes, was an official selection at the Telluride Film Festival, an audience award winner at Fantastic Fest, and won Best Director and Best Visual Effects at the Sitges International Film Festival … It’s also managed to make more than $44 million worldwide since its release in April 2010. Not bad for one of the most expensive films (with a budget of about $10 million according to Box Office Mojo) ever made in South Korea.

If you don’t mind subtitles and you’re looking for something fun, Asian, and Western, I’d heartily recommend that you check out The Good, The Bad, The Weird. It’s a ton of fun!

This review first appeared at BlogCritics.org here.

–Fitz

The (New) Karate Kid Doesn’t Look Horrible?

The Karate Kid
Image via Wikipedia

Hey guys…

I thought this was interesting. Saw the new Karate Kid trailer from Sony Pictures starring Jaden Smith and Jackie Chan. It doesn’t look as bad as I expected. As a child of the 80’s, I remember the first one and it’s tough to forget “wax on, wax off” even after all these years.

Have to admit I like the chopsticks, fly, flyswatter scene.

Maybe I can sit through it… What do you think?

–Fitz

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