Film Review: “Tsogt Taij”

“Tsogt Taij” is a historical movie that is somewhat accurate, according to my research, but with a very definite Soviet propaganda feel. Not surprisingly, because it was made in 1945, when Mongolia was heavily under the USSR’s influence. It’s not my first Mongolian historical movie that I’ve felt this way about. Anyway, I must say, I generally enjoyed the film with some caveats. But before I move on, let me warn you of spoilers.

The film takes place around the 1630’s when the Grand Khan (Ligdan Khan) is in poor health, and at least one khan (Khush Khan) has aligned with the Manchurian invaders and yellow hat Tibetan Buddhists (Geluk sect) to dominate the whole of Mongolia. Ligdan Khan is against this alliance, as he is a supporter of a rival Buddhist sect, called the Karma Kayug sect, and he asks the heroic Tsogt Taij, a nobleman much beloved by common Mongolian people, to join him and defeat the yellow hats in favour of the Karma sect. Actually, I had to cheat by doing some research to figure all this out. It’s not entirely clear for a foreigner exactly who all the parties involved are. I got a partial picture, but not enough to fill all the gaps. So I consulted my old trusty go-to website.

There are some great Shakespearean-type dramas involving forbidden love, murder of the hero’s mother, his postponement of revenge for a higher purpose, and finally, betrayal by Tsogt’s son. Specifically, Tsogt Taij’s son Arslan, who is a bit of brat who’d rather love than fight, falls in love with Khush Khan’s daughter Khulan. Khush Khan and Tsogt are old, friendly rivals but become sworn enemies after Tsogt’s refusal to submit to Khush’s favoured yellow hat sect and the Manchurian overlords. Khush sends a surprise attack of yellow hats to murder Tsogt’s family and followers at their palace. However, Tsogt is off on some other army business and his mother and followers are massacred and his palace destroyed. When he discovers this, he has a meeting with his army where everybody except Tsogt want immediate revenge on Khush, but Tsogt is patient and says they must wait.

Shortly after, word comes from Ligdan Khan that he needs Tsogt’s assistance in crushing the yellow hats in Tibet. So, revenge is postponed for a higher purpose and his army led by him, Guenbaatar (the most senior general), and his son, who at first doesn’t want to go because he’d rather sleep with Khulan, but later wants to be a general. You can see some foreshadowing about Arslan’s impulsiveness and fondness for the fairer sex over war. Khulan is a strong-headed warrior princess who disavows her dad, tags along to be with her love, Arslan, and fight the yellow hats. Boy, she’s in for a heartbreak. More on that later.

So, off they go to burn down Lhasa, the capital of Tibet. The Tibetan army is defeated easily on the way and Lhasa’s government puts their heads together on ways they can avoid a massacre. Meanwhile, the Mongolian army splits into 3 groups surrounding the city, poised for attack on Tsogt’s command. The Tibetans try 3 different tactics because they have no remaining army: prayers; a request for help from Khush Khan, which could take too long; and a delaying tactic/secret weapon. The secret weapon is the gift of a beautiful Tibetan princess to Arslan, unbeknownst to Tsogt or Khulan. Of course, given Arslan’s personality, we can predict that he will be a soft target. He is smitten and agrees to meet the Dalai Lama with his new fast-love and swears allegiance to the yellow hats in exchange for some top notch Tibetan beauty, completing his, “I’m a lover, not a fighter” characterization. On hearing of this, Tsogt is devastated, disowns his son and allows Guenbaatar to decide Arslan’s punishment, which is pretty obviously execution as a traitor. (His own words came back to bite him in the ass.)

Unfortunately, Arslan’s betrayal causes a delay in the siege of Lhasa and Khush Khan’s army shows up for the final showdown. Naturally, there’s a final showdown between the two arch rivals. Tsogt kills Khush in hand-to-hand combat, but then Tsogt is killed by Khush’s troops: a hero’s death after successfully avenging his mother’s killer.

My final thoughts on this movie are that it’s enjoyable for the period costumes, customs, and the high drama. Most of the acting is great, but the battle scenes, although there are hundreds of real actors and extras, are quite poorly choreographed by today’s standards. The close-ups of hand-to-hand combat are especially quite unconvincing, but at least there’s no kung-fu, thank the grand khan. Some minor complaints are that it’s in black and white, and this makes it difficult to figure out who is who sometimes. Furthermore, the English subtitles are quite poor (grammar, spelling and word choices) and translations of historical points that would help the viewer sometimes aren’t translated at all. Maybe get a friend who can read Mongolian to help there. So, I suggest you do your research BEFORE watching the movie, not AFTER as I did.

Overall Rating

[usr 3.5]
I would have given it 4 stars if the subtitles and the history was explained better.

Watch Tsogt Taij on Youtube

Ed: Here’s a Youtube link to watch “Tsogt Taij”. We think it’s okay to share it, because the film is so old that it should be in public domain.

 

mm About Martin Foster
Martin Foster was born in Liverpool, UK and educated in Manchester, UK and Los Angeles, USA. His first career was a computer programmer but he quickly found it unchallenging and moved into computer graphics. He has worked on 25 films, including 2 Harry Potters and 2 Chronicles of Narnia. His last major film was “John Carter of Mars”. However, he has also transitioned again into English teaching since 2008, at least until some great film work falls into his lap. He has written and published several books in the computer graphics and crime genres. He currently lives in Ulaanbaatar with his lovely girlfriend and a dog called Bambruush the Destroyer.

mm

Martin Foster

Martin Foster was born in Liverpool, UK and educated in Manchester, UK and Los Angeles, USA. His first career was a computer programmer but he quickly found it unchallenging and moved into computer graphics. He has worked on 25 films, including 2 Harry Potters and 2 Chronicles of Narnia. His last major film was “John Carter of Mars”. However, he has also transitioned again into English teaching since 2008, at least until some great film work falls into his lap. He has written and published several books in the computer graphics and crime genres. He currently lives in Ulaanbaatar with his lovely girlfriend and a dog called Bambruush the Destroyer.

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