His Majesty, Genghis Khan (Manuel Conde and Lou Salvador, 1950) July 30, 2008Posted by Richard Bolisay in Asian Films, Biopic, Cinemalaya, Noypi.
Directed by Manuel Conde and Lou Salvador
Cast: Manuel Conde, Lou Salvador, Elvira Reyes
“I had been told that I was a genius. I told him that there was a difference. Orson Welles is writer-director-star because he is a genius. Manuel Conde does it for lack of money.”
Old films have that feel of lengthiness – - taking their time in establishing narratives and perfecting the contrast of a certain lighting or finding the seamless twist in the end – - but what enables some to be considered classics is the enduring vision of the filmmaker, how he controls every frame and every action without sacrificing the priceless fun of making films. Genghis Khan is one of the most important relics of Philippine cinema’s golden age in the 50s; Conde’s take on the gallantry of the Mongolian ruler proves to be nothing short of majestic, it is spectacular in every sense of the word, and in almost every aspect of its production there rides a candid revelation of mastery, of unrelenting intention to entertain and at the same time deliver a fantastic memoir of the brave leader of the largest empire in history.
It looks simple, but choosing the plot that would represent Genghis Khan’s mighty invasion of East and Central Asia is a challenge. His rule that spanned for several years has expectedly attracted the glamour of Hollywood productions such as Dick Powell’s ill-fated The Conqueror led by John Wayne and Henry Levin’s version with Omar Sharif. Russian filmmaker Sergei Bodrov’s Mongol must be the closest we can get to history filming itself as it received a nod from the Academy last year and did well in the box-office. These works boast with technical strength and beautiful stars, but what makes Conde’s version more impressive is that it came before all of them. No virtue of comparison here – - I’m not a fan of historical epics so there’s no chance I might have seen them – - but this one, this surviving film of Conde’s MC Productions matches the infamy of Temujin’s 13th century imperial rule – - belligerent and uncanny – - soaring like a proud eagle in gentle flight.
Yet it all boils down to storytelling. Conde strips down the basics and fills everything with outstanding humor – - puns and quips that blend effectively with his charm. He throws food to a lady’s face, spanks her brusquely, screams at her – - where else can you find that hero? Conde plays his character spiritedly, such joy in acting that has been elusive in cinema these years. The fake brows and moustache doubles the fun as well as many other things – - the “strongest man” and “last man standing” matches in the beginning, the gigantic stones falling endlessly towards the army of fools, the dumb king Burchou and his power-driven adviser’s lesson in trust and perfidy, and Genghis Khan’s romance with Burchou’s daughter Lei-Hai – - brilliantly captured in resplendent wit.
The battle scenes are beatific. Forget the theatrics – - the staging reminds me of Seven Samurai without the rain and mud, Ford’s westerns without the breathtaking landscapes, and 300 without the overdone graphics. In short Conde has made it so fresh and original that the silver screen leaves a swish every time the swords are swayed and the bodies are exaggeratedly thrown out of motion. The humor is evident even in these scenes and that’s what pulled the trigger of greatness off. The Western critics praised the horses; I praise the location – - anyone knows where that stony land is found?
Changing his surname from Urbano to Conde, he must have been unnoticed during his time – - like artists who lived ahead of their years – - but Manuel Conde remains a Count even without the name – - His Royal Highness in just a simple hand gesture or movement of lips. As the clouds that embrace his characters in one of Genghis Khan’s battles whisper greatness, everything feels like reminiscence of a forgotten time. * * * * *