Film Review: Mongolian Tale

by Celeste Heiter, Jan 22, 2006 | Destinations: Mongolia / Ulaanbaatar

The Mongolian lifestyle is nomadic, and although life on the steppes of Mongolia is harsh and demanding, it is simple. Days are spent herding livestock and processing the sustenance they provide. The evening's activities center around the yurt, a large, round tent supported by strong poles, vented at the top, with a hearth in the center of the interior for warmth and food preparation. Yet for all its rustic simplicity, romantic relationships in Mongolia can be as complex and heartbreaking as their sophisitcated counterparts in Manhattan, Milan, Moscow, or Madrid.

The players in this Mongolian tale are Bayinbulag, a boy whose widowed father leaves him in a foster home, an elderly woman known only as Grandma, with a long history of caring for abandoned children, and Somiya, her granddaughter.

Bayinbulag and Somiya grow up as brother and sister, yet over time, it seems only natural that they should marry. But fate intervenes when Bayinbulag's father unexpectedly provides him with the means to study veterinary medicine in the city. Eager for the opportunity, Bayinbulag bids Somiya goodbye, with the promise to return in eight months.

Three long years later, the vagabond Bayinbulag returns, not as a veterinarian, but as a troubadour. His time away has been spent learning to play the guitar, while Somiya's time has been spent in the company of the local roue, whose child she now carries. With all hopes and dreams of a future with Somiya shattered, Bayinbulag takes to the road again to sing his sad tale.

Fast-forward twelve years, when a nostalgic Bayinbulag returns to the village in search of Somiya, only to find her married to a drunken, ne'er-do-well layabout. In addition to the child she bore out of wedlock, she is now a mother of four sons whom she supports by working as an assistant at the local schoolhouse. In a poignant reunion, Bayinbulag and Somiya open not only their old wounds, but also their hearts to healing, forgiveness and redemption.

Known in its native language as Hei Jun Ma, directed by Fei Xie and starring Tengger as Bayinbulag and Renhua Na as Somiya, A Mongolian Tale is a stirring portrait of star-crossed lovers, and a portal into a world and a way of life that few will ever see.

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A Mongolian Tale is available on VHS at

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