Bring on the barbarian love muffins

This swords and sandals (furry boots in this case) movie set in the Mongolian steppe fails to provide high drama

By Ian Bartholomew  /  Staff Reporter

Fri, Sep 07, 2007 - Page 17

An eagle glides through the air high above the Mongolian plains, which roll away into the seemingly infinite distance. This is a vast and wild land in which only the strong survive. It is a point that Japanese director, Shinichiro Sawai, seems keen to make in the historical romance, The Blue Wolf, which opens today. Also clear from the very first moments of the film is that romance is going to far outweigh history in The Blue Wolf. The sympathetic treatment of one of the most violent conquerors the world has produced may be because this lavish production aims to celebrate the 800th anniversary of Genghis Khan's reign.

The Blue Wolf starts out with the abduction of a young woman from one tribe by the chieftain of another. The woman becomes the mother of Genghis Khan. This sets the stage for deep-seated tribal resentments that serve to drive the plot forward. His mixed ancestry irks his father's tribe and the future founder of the Mongol Empire is outcast.

Denied his rights as heir to his father's power, Khan gradually builds up an army. During this time, his wife, Boite, is abducted. When she is rescued, she is found to be with child. The mistrust that exists between father and son forms the main substance of the second part of the film.

One of the most astonishing feats of empire-building ever achieved is an almost-invisible background. The pressing issues of paternity and identity dominate. The voice-over exposition has all the charm of a school textbook, providing some historical framework but always hesitating to burden the audience with too many facts.

On first glimpse, one might be tempted to call The Blue Wolf a hagiography, but the cavalier attitude accorded to what little is known about the early career of Genghis Khan and the lack of any particularly convincing context deprives the film of this distinction. This is not to say that it is not entertaining, but it bears as much relationship to what may have been going down in central Asia in the 13th century as Cecil B. DeMille's The Ten Commandments has to serious biblical scholarship.

For a film with epic ambitions, the whole thing has the devastatingly underwhelming quality of a soap opera, despite perfectly adequate acting from the main characters. There is one feature though, that must be applauded: the absence of elaborate CGI effects. The Mongol hoards are just that, lots of men on horses riding like hell and shouting fiercely at the camera.