An End to Killing: Busan Review

 The utopian story of how a saintly aged priest presses the ruthless conqueror Genghis Khan to embrace non-violence suffers from being less spectacular and poetic than some rivals 

A Daoist priest persuades Genghis Khan to renounce violence at the end of his life in a Mongolian-Chinese epic directed by Wang Ping

BUSAN –  One of several film premieres in Busan whose theme is non-violence, the $12 million Mongolian-Chinese costumer about the last years of Genghis Khan, An End to Killing, recounts an astonishing historical footnote in a style that is far from new or surprising.  Its academic style undercuts, without entirely eliminating, the poetry and grand spectacle of the story, while veteran director Wang Ping (Gold Marriage) steers a straight course to sending out a heartfelt message of peace that Western audiences will embrace long before the Conqueror does. The Fortissimo title will be released in the UK and France early next year by Universal Pictures International Entertainment (UPIE).  

The opening arrow on a map shows the enormous expanse of territory Genghis Khan’s soldiers conquered, stretching from Mongolia all the way to Afghanistan. An aged man in 1217, the Khan (Tu Men) is traveling with his troops on a punitive mission towards the Western limits of his empire. As they ride suited up in heavy studded armor, soldiers drop off their horses like flies, victims of the Bubonic plague that is ravaging the land. Mortality is very near, the emperor feels.

So he sends his dashing envoy, General Liu, to find Qiu Chuji (Zhou Youliang), known as the Sage of the Eternal Spring, and bring him back to teach Khan a few tricks about long life. The old Daoist priest does indeed have some amazing powers, but immortality is not one of them, and he confides to his young disciple that he won’t live more than 300 days. Considering the trip West will take over a year, the boy brings a coffin along.

The road is truly long, enlivened by a massive bandit attack at a mountain inn where they are overnighting, and later another massive bandit attack on a mountain pass. The fighting is realistic rather than the magical-flying variety common in Hong Kong and Chinese martial arts films. Qiu’s long journey is intercut with the Khan’s battles, his fierce warriors riding across the plain and laying fiery siege to city walls. It takes a very long time for them to meet in the Khan’s camp.  Qiu immediately begins his quiet, Gandhi-like campaign to end killing and bring peace to the land. When he saves the Khan’s beloved wife (played with sad dignity by Korean actress Park Yejin) along with another woman from a subplot, Genghis Khan can’t help but be impressed.

In the main roles, Tu Men as the inscrutable autarch and Zhou as the sage who conquers him make a fine study in contrasts. The Khan’s selfish love for his young wife, and the priest’s fondness for wine, are good character markers. Park is hauntingly expressive even with minimum dialogue.

Visuals by top cinematographer Sun Ming are naturally spectacular, yet compared to a film like director Lu Chan’s modernist The Last Supper about the birth of the Han dynasty, for which the China Film Group was also a co-producer, the film is far less spectacular and poetic in style, nor does it go into potentially difficult political territory like questioning the way history is recounted.  Kenji Kawai’s score is a plus and gives energy to the action.

Venue:  Busan Film Festival (Window on Asian Cinema), Oct. 5, 2012
Production companies:  ShanDong Film Studio, China Film Group Corp., ShanDong WoHan Culture and Media Co., Radio Film and TV Administration of ShanDong Province, SCS Entertainment.
Zhao Youliang, Men Tu, Park Yejin , Le Geng ,Yu Shaoqun ,Li Xiaoran, Elvis Tsui, Nakaizumi Hideo
Director: Wang Ping
Screenwriter: Ran Ping
Wang Ring, Shen Wugang , Iseki Satoru ,Lee Jooick
Executive producers:
Director of photography: Ming Sun
Editor: Stanley Tam
Music: Kenji Kawai
Sales Agent: Fortissimo Films
No rating, 108 minutes.