Ivan Shurkhovetskiy (director)
29 April 2019 (released)
05 May 2019
This historical fantasy movie about the destruction of the Russian city of Ryazan by invading Mongols is as action-packed as it is visually stunning.
Based on the ‘Tale of the Destruction of Ryazan’ the story depicts the near fight impossible fight of Ryazan knight Evpaty Kolovrat against Mongolian leader Batu Khan and his gigantic hordes of savage warriors in 1237.
The film begins with Evpaty as a young boy out hunting with some elders from his village. Already demonstrating considerable skill and versatility spinning wooden sticks around, Nastya, the young daughter of one of the hunters who accompanies the men, decides to henceforth nickname her special childhood sweetheart Kolovrat because of his ability to spin sticks and wooden swords around so fast as if they were a spinning wheel. Moments later, the hunting party find themselves attacked by renegade Mongols. The attackers leave Evpaty for dead…
Fast-forward and he is now a grown man (Ilya Malakov) with a nasty scar reaching from the right side of his hairline down to his ear, a ‘memory’ of that fateful attack. He also suffers from severe memory lapses whenever he wakes up. Nastya (Polina Chernyshova), his childhood sweetheart, is now his wife and bore him two children. They live in Ryazan where young Prince Fyodor (Ilya Antonenko) and his wife, Princess Eupraxy (Mariya Fomina), get ready to baptize their new-born in the cathedral in a pompous ceremony, with Kolovrat as godfather. Alas, the ceremony is interrupted by the alarmed announcement that invading Mongols are approaching. Rather than giving in to demands, elderly Prince Yuri of Ryazan (Aleksei Serebryakov) sends a party of soldiers, including Prince Fyodor and Kolovrat, to the Mongol camp under leader Batu Khan (Aleksandr Choi) in an effort to present the Great Khan with many present in the hope he would not invade Ryazan. Despite initial small talk and the Mongols serving the ‘guests’ with a slap-up meal, the mood soon turns sour when it becomes transparent Batu Khan has no intentions on giving up on his plans. Unfortunately, neither do Prince Fyodor and the others and it is up to Kolovrat to avert disaster by mean of diplomatic yet stern talks. In response, the Khan presents Kolvrat with a charm called ‘Immunity charter’ – some sort of seal that gives him immunity from getting killed by the Mongols. Which is just as well, as second later a fierce fight breaks out between hosts and guest during which Fyodor and others are brutally slain. Realising that the ‘guests’ from Ryazan never had any intentions to give up the city to the Mongols, Batu Khan and his horde – fired on by his fearsome henchman – decide to pillage Ryazan.
When Kolovrat and the surviving men arrive, they find their city burned to the ground with many of the inhabitants slain, including Kolvrat’s wife and his children, Prince Yuri and Princess Eupraxy with her infant. Through flashbacks we get to see the savagery and how they had perished. Numb with pain and grief, Kolovrat and his small army of men ring the town bell to let any survivors know it is safe to come out of their hiding place. For a short while there is some hope and joy, only to be dashed by the realisation that some of Batu Khan’s warriors have returned. With superhuman strength Kolovrat manages to kill them with his two swords! He and the other survivors then head for a dense forest in order to avoid further attacks though although no further attacks are imminent they are now confronted with blizzards and ice storms. Amidst all this chaos they come across a monk called Nestor (Aleksey Vertkov) and his ‘pet’: a gigantic brown bear! Nestor puts the group in a cave and offers them nourishment from a brew made of herbs.
Realising that Nestor knows a thing or two about herbs, Kolovrat hatches a plan to spike the water reserves of the Mongolian camp with a potion that puts the Mongolian warriors and their horses temporarily out of action. Kolovrat uses the ensuing chaos so he can send three of his men on different routes (without being discovered by the Mongols) in the hope that they may reach three nearby towns whose leaders might come to the aid of Kolovrat and his besieged army. He then entrust another one of his soldiers, Jinxer, and the only woman in his group, Lada (Yulia Khlynina), to take some of the surviving children of Ryazan on a huge sleigh direction sea and to safety. The sleigh has a makeshift sail so can double as a boat. Kolovrat now has only seventeen warriors left at his disposal and little does he know that the leaders of the other three town aren’t too keen to aid to his defence as they deem it more important to stay put and defend their own town from possible attacks by the Mongols. On a windswept hill, Kolovrat and his men ready themselves for their final battle against Batu Khan and his horde, a battle they cannot win…
With spectacular action sequences and stunt choreography this really is a thrill-ride! Great emphasis was paid to authentic costumes although it is probably fair to say that unlike Batu Khan, 13th century Mongolian warlords did NOT sport turquoise eye-shadow, tons of eyeliner and, to top it all, black nail varnish! Let’s just put it down to artistic licence… The performances are excellent and convincing and Maksim Osadchy’s cinematography contributes much to the general atmosphere.
Dialogue is in Russian (with English subtitles) though for some strange reason the Mongolian/Tartan dialogue (although also with English subtitles) is overlapping, with a female voice speaking in Tartan. Why a female voice translating Tartan into Russian when Mongolian warriors are speaking? Why couldn’t they just dub Tartan into Russian - or simply have Russian subtitles for native audiences?
That aside, it really is a FURIOUS film beginning to end!