It's the late 12th century, at a trading bazaar in the Gobi Desert. A ruler from the local Tangut dynasty is buying slaves, and he's drawn to a captive named Temudgin. A seer warns against the sale—this man will bring ruin upon the empire. He chuckles and imprisons Temudgin in a filthy cell and hangs a sign: THE MONGOL WHO WANTED TO DESTROY THE TANGUT KINGDOM. People mock and stare.
But the joke's on the Tanguts. For Temudgin is the birthname of one Genghis Khan, whose beginnings are traced (via a light embellishment of scholarly accounts) in Sergei Bodrov's epic "Mongol." The film—which opened June 6 in the States and the U.K.—follows Temudgin from his childhood as the son of a powerful khan to exile after his father's murder and his rise as a formidable warrior. Along the way, there's love in the form of a beauty named Borte, and fighting—lots of it, of the throat-slitting, arrow-piercing variety. Even though the director's an art-house favorite, the film's closer in spirit to Hollywood epics like "Braveheart": history-making battles, stunning landscapes, and a hero whose determination destines him to greatness.