“Putting the “que?” in ‘Mongolian barbeque’…”
Oh, dear. This spectacular misfire looks nice, with some good cinematography, pretty landscapes and occasionally decent action sequences (though let’s just mention, I doubt the equines here performed under the supervision of the American Humane Association). But the script. I say again: oh, dear. It’s a complete mess, with no sense of narrative flow, peppered with jumps like “eight years later”, and heavily populated with messengers breathlessly rushing it to deliver account of actions off-screen, that typically sound a damn sight more interesting than what’s actually depicted.
The heroine is Ahno (Davaasuren), a princess who falls for a nomadic priest, Galdan (Mondoon). Initially, his vows of celibacy prevent anything from happening, but after his brother is killed (cue the breathless messenger), Galdan takes over as leader, which conveniently allows him to forgo the whole celibacy thing and marry Ahno, who had been betrothed to the brother by her father despite her love for Galdan. However, it’s not long before their relationship is strained, with Ahno torn between duty to her husband and Dad, who are both jostling for position in the power structure of late 17th-century Mongolia. Not helping matters is the Chinese emperor, lurking in the wings and saying ominous things such as, “May one wolf devour the other.” Eventually – and I mean after you’ve endured leaden dialogue such as, “Why would you say something like that to me, knowing it could mean the destruction of my relationship with my nephew?” – this leads to a battle, where Ahno finally straps on her gear. Because the “warrior” part of the title has basically been AWOL, since she accidentally fired an arrow at Galdan, in basically the opening scene of the film.
Part of the problem is my unfortunate decision to watch this in a dubbed version, which rarely helps and can fatally wound even great movies e.g. try watching the English dub of Heroic Trio [no, please don’t]. That can’t explain the horrendous approach to story-telling: it wouldn’t have surprised me to discover the movie originally ran three-plus hours. and was edited down to 95 minutes for a Western audience. While I’ve found nothing to say that was the case, it gives you an idea of what to expect: scenes have no connection to those that precede or follow them, sometimes ending in fade outs that give the impression of a bad TV movie. Maybe it makes more sense to a local audience, since Ahno, who was a real historical figure, is apparently a bit of a national heroine, a la Joan of Arc.
Technically, it is actually slick, and as background viewing it might reach two stars, providing you are not expecting actual warrior princessing of the Xenaesque kind. However, it’s telling that, while I generally use movie watching as an excuse to put off running on our treadmill, in this case I ended up embracing the treadmilling enthusiastically, rather than having to give the film my full attention. Watch Myn Bala instead, if you want a central Asian historical epic.
Dir: Shuudertsetseg Baatarsuren
Star: Otgonjargal Davaasuren, Myagmarnaran Gombo, Myagmar Mondoon, Bayarmagnai Yeguzer