Bollywood often gets bandied about as an alternative to Hollywood fare by those cut back on consumption of it’s anti-American resentment. Taken in by the flashy colors, the obvious national pride of the productions, and for some strange reason the song and dance numbers that break out on the regular, they seek solace in alien spectacle. Personally, I find the sheer foreign-ness of Bollywood off-putting in much the same way I find anime incomprehensible. The cultural assumptions that zig when I expect them to zag just suck me right out of the story that is trying to be told.
Fortunately, there are some solid films coming out of the eastern bloc of western film companies that don’t suffer that issue to near the same extent. The former eastern bloc countries have always dumped resources into film – Tartovsky anyone? – but thanks to the shrinking cost of production and transmission, it is becoming easier than ever to catch foreign films that require the crossing of a much shorter cultural divide.
Enter Furious, the Russian made story of 17 brave warriors who stood up to a full Mongol horde. The Mongols are painted as the savage and feral monsters you’d expect from a Russian production, rather than with noble, diverse, and multi-cultural facelift that anti-western historians have tried to provide them with over the last few decades. But it isn’t so much anti-Mongol as it is pro-Russian. Time is taken to show women singing traditional Russian harmonies. Our hero refuses to leave his God-child’s christening just because a few rowdy steppe riders are knocking on the door.
The film has a mythic quality to it. It is heavy on the dreamy CGI backgrounds, and the characters are all larger than life. The action features plenty of slo-mo combat and the fortunes of our hero rise and fall in dramatic contrast. It isn’t necessarily a happy film – this is a bit of a last stand during the Mongol conquest of Russia we’re talking about, after all. But it has that Forlorn Hope of a Hopeless Cause aspect that resonates with just about everyone. Every culture has its Alamo, after all. And even the great khan man himself earns a bit of humanity later in the film when his mask of alien weirdness slips to reveal a doubt that he has what it takes to fill his grandfather’s shoes.
A note of warning: The English dub was painful to hear – on the level of anime for cartoonishness – so on this particular count I slipped into the ‘subs’ camp.
Enjoy your shiny Asian and middle-eastern glitz. As for me and my house, we will stick with the grim and heroic war films made to the west of the Urals.