Communism, the jealous Communist regimes (Soviet and Chinese) vilified Mongolia’s
national hero, Genghis Khan (who was in fact quite progressive, even by
contemporary standards). During the Cultural Revolution, all traditional music was
banned, so a tune extolling the virtues of the great Khan’s steeds would be
doubly anathema. However, the song held tremendous meaning for Mongolian
vocalist Urna Chachar Tugchi’s family, so she set out to reclaim their cultural
heritage, verse by verse. Byambasuren Davaa chronicled her song-hunting odyssey
in The Two Horses of Genghis Khan (trailer here), which releases
today on DVD from Corinth Films.
(as she is often simply billed, like Adele) grew up in a musical family,
haunted by the Cultural Revolution. At the height of the horrors, her
grandmother’s prized horse-head violin was destroyed. Only the carved neck
remained, on which some of the lyrics to the song “The Two Horses of Genghis
Khan” were still legible. The symbolic significance for the divided Mongolian
homeland is hard to miss.
gained international prominence in what might be termed “world music” circles, the
Inner Mongolian Urna arranges a concert with an Outer Mongolian classical
ensemble to premiere the rediscovered song. At that point, she sets off into
grasslands in search of elderly Mongolians who might still remember the lyrics.
during the early stages of her journey, she only finds the lingering effects of
deliberate cultural and environmental devastation. As in Tibet, the old regime
was not a wise steward of Mongolia ecology and the current government had other
fish to fry, such as the 2008 riots, which broke out just after filming
wrapped. Frankly, viewers will suspect some of the old timers Urna meets might
remember the song better than they let on, but simply do not feel comfortable admitting
otherwise, given the past efforts devoted to suppressing traditional culture.
Urna has a stirring voice and a warm, engaging presence, which give her immediate
credibility with the Outer Mongolians she encounters and the viewers watching
from the comfort of home. The wide open vistas are also quite a sight to take
in, making THoGK an unusually visual
documentary. Indeed, cinematographer Martijn van Broekhuizen (currently shooting
the reboot of The Crow) frames some
pretty incredible images.
climatic performance would seem to end the journey on a satisfyingly uplifting
note, but the final post-credits captions offer a chilling parting dose of
reality. They also underscore why Urna’s mission of cultural restoration is so important
and necessary in a world of ideological strife. Highly recommended, especially
for fans of Urna, Shen Yun, and similar efforts to reclaim the cultural
diversity lost under the successive mass movements of the Chinese Communist
regime, Two Horses of Genghis Khan releases
today (9/27) on DVD, from Corinth Films.
Labels: Cultural Revolution, Documentary, DVD, Mongolian Cinema, Urna Chachar Tugchi