Wednesday, July 03, 2013

Genghis Khan (Manuel Conde, 1950)

An engaging, low-budget take on the early years of warrior Temujin, Genghis Khan still holds up pretty well today. Viewing this admirable, entertaining adventure yarn was the best film experience I've had at the Cinemalaya Film Festival 2008.

Manuel Conde’s film was one of the first local films to receive worldwide acclaim. American James Agee, writer of The African Queen, was a foremost proponent. The film was selected to compete for the top awards at the Venice Film Festival. It paved the way for local films to go international.

I adored the early segments of the Conde film. It dealt with a competition involving champions of five warring tribes. Temujin outsmarts his competitors in rolling boulders. He uses chopped wood as leverage for his bigger boulder. He arrives at the finish line way ahead of the others.

In a free-for-all hand combat, Temujin and a taller, stronger foe remain standing. The Mongol warrior cannot knock down his foe despite a barrage of punches. He grabs Temujin and puts him in a head-lock. Temujin tries to wiggle out and notices his foe’s tickling sensitivity. It was just a matter of time before sly Temujin pounces on his rival’s funny bone.

Director Conde mixed excellent sword fights with funny scenes. The marvelous music scoring by Juan Silos Jr and rapid-fire editing enlivened the fantastic deeds and funny antics of Temujin.

A droll segment shows the tribal champion conversing with Lei Hai, a princess spying on him. It works like a charm because of Conde’s comic timing. The hilarious moments concerned Temujin’s reluctance to part with a roasted leg of a lamb. The woman asks for a piece of the lamb. The young man grabs a large chunk. He further divides it into two. He slices it further with his teeth and gives the woman a tiny, wee bit of a morsel. It was so funny that Lamberto Avellana had a similar scene for his adventure film Lapu-Lapu.

Let’s go back to the Conde film. Temujin lays down his head on Lei Hai’s lap but she won’t let him. He angrily sits up and refuses to give a piece of a lamb to the lady. However, the roasted lamb is so mouth-watering that the woman later on allowed Temujin to put his head on her lap. His conquest of the woman is a mere glimpse of his voracious sex drive.

Another memorable scene, a dramatic one this time, had Temujin arriving at his village after escaping from his foes. The area is in disarray and the homes are all burning. This scene captured perfectly the moment when the tribal champion was transformed into an avenging conqueror. It predated the burning homestead scene from John Ford’s 1956 western classic The Searchers. The original Star Wars film also had a similar scene.

Conde was able to make Genghis Khan look like an epic despite budgetary constraints. The small horses, ridiculed by local audiences, gave the film ‘realism’ in the eyes of foreign viewers. The camera angles by Emmanuel Rojas lent the film a broad majestic feel. Adding pomp to the film was the luscious production design by National Artist Carlos Botong Francisco. The grand designs of the tents and gold accessories were shouting to be seen in full color (take a glance at the above color photo). The locations were varied and reflect the long journey of Temujin from a mere warrior to a feared, ruthless ruler. 


The above piece, more or less, was written for another blog in 2008. If my memory serves me right, the film shown then at the Cultural Center of the Philippines was not the American version. I’ve seen the latter version and it eliminates one of my pet peeves about the film.

The physics of the rolling boulders were not right then. The American version got rid of the problem by discarding those footages showing the clumsy bouncing of rocks.

There will be a screening of a restored Genghis Khan this Saturday, July 6, 2013, at UP Film Institute’s Cine Adarna. No matter what version will be shown, the film is a must-see. 

Manuel Conde : Temujin / Genghis Khan
Elvira Reyes : Lei Hai
Darmo Acosta : Targout
Lou Salvador : Burchou

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