An aging Genghis Khan (Men Tu) has sent his top General (Le Geng) halfway around the world to retrieve an ancient Chinese master (Youliang Zhao) in the hopes he can provide him with a potion of immortality.
I often tell my students when they begin writing their reports about historical figures to try to find a unique and interesting angle on their subject. I would be very interested in reading a paper about Genghis Khan’s later life, his fear of death, and his searching for any way possible to prolong his life for as long as possible. However, as a movie, I find myself really bored by the subject matter, and longing instead for a more conventional narrative about Khan’s rise to power rather than this play about a dying and desperate Khan.
I think my issues with the story mostly come from the execution of the film itself. To start, the acting is not very good; everyone is melodramatic, and yet not over the top. The worst part of the performances is that with so much at stake, no one’s calm is ever disrupted. Khan waits for years for his General to deliver Master Chuji and his immortality secrets, but when the mission is complete and Chuji tells Khan that there’s no such thing as an immortality pill, Khan doesn’t seem upset by this at all. Instead, the two men spend the rest of the film talking about life and death. If Khan doesn’t care that Chuji can’t prolong his life, then why should we care about the dramatic question of the film?
There are a handful of supernatural elements at work in the film, which only serve to convince me that the truthful, historical facts have been diluted and exaggerated over time. Coincidental rain storms, frail old men disarming swords with the wave of a flag, and a few other little elements make the movie seem like it’s not grounded in reality. Instead, legends of Genghis Khan and the people around him reign supreme, apparently without much proof from historical records.
When we do get some action, it feels clumsy and thrown together. Battle scenes are plagued with slow motion and quick cuts to create the illusion that a lot is happening, but simple examination of any fight scene makes the choreography obvious and hackneyed.
Finally, the film opens with the same quote as appears on the cover of the DVD: “It is not sufficient that I succeed; all others must fail.” This paints a fairly conventional view of Khan as a ruthless, vindictive ruler. So, the quote has absolutely no thematic relevance to the film because this version of Khan is too muted, caring, and otherwise weak.
Special features include a making of featurette and a trailer gallery. Available on DVD from Lionsgate on March 18.