Or, Genghis Khan Begins. There’s a sense, in the Kazakh government-underwritten Mongol, of “we can do it too,” with The Boy Who Would Be Warlord (Odnyam Odsuren as a kid, then Tadanobu Asano) subjected to trials by fire, lightning storm, stockade, hand-to-hand grudge match, clan skirmish and crashing waves of CGI footsoldiers, in a (sequel groundwork-laying) origin myth befitting an epic hero and point of regional pride, complete with an ennobled worldview and anachronistically equal-footed marriage. With remarkable straightness of face, Russian director Sergei Bodrov strides to his ancient marks at first choppily, then by rote, then, gradually, with goofily high-fiveable earnestness.
If Mongol never transcends its image-consciousness, don’t blame Rogier Stoffers and Sergeo Trofimov’s widescreen cinematography of the steppes, wilder and more rousing than your average Special Advertising Section. Or your Japanese Khan, Asano — in his domestic roles an exportable avatar of Tokyopop hipness, who moves his body with a seriousness bordering on the spiritual. He’s the missing link between Daniel Day-Lewis and Johnny Depp, more attuned than Mongol knows what to do with, and scaling down the knowingness that’s bonded him to his audience in films like Kiyoshi Kurosawa’s Bright Future and Katsuhito Ishii’s The Taste of Tea.