Queen Mandukhai is an epic historical feature film produced in the Mongolia People’s Republic in the final months before the collapse of socialism and the founding of the democratic state. The film chronicles the life of the historical figure Mandukhai (c. 1449-1510), a Queen who ruled Mongolia during the late fifteenth century.
The film depicts a series of succession crises in the Mongolian state as Mandukhai fights to keep the state unified by preserving the direct lineage of Genghis Khan, despite murderous intrigues, rebellions and assassinations by rival Mongol princes, as well as the constant threat of invasion by Ming China.
Mongolian: Мандухай сэцэн хатан (Mandukhai Tsetsen Khatun), Queen Mandukhai the Wise or Mandukhai the Wise Queen.
- Queen Mandukhai Namsrain Suvd
- Minister Ismeel Damchaa Banzar
- Minister Satai Ochirbat Ayurzana
- Mandul Khan Nyamsuren Luvsan –Osor
- Batmunkh Dayan Khan Sukhkhuyag Jamsran
- Younger Batmunkh Dayan Khan Bayarkhuu Purev
- Queen Yungen Mendbayar Dagvadorj
- Tsegts Myagmarnaran Gombo
- Unubold Enkhtuya Dashguntev
- Saimochin Tsengel Dorjpurev
- Uriankhaia Purev Bayajikh
- Bayanmunkh Jonon Gursed Dalkhsuren
- Shuustei Jargalsaikhan Demberel
- Queen Shikher Tserenpagma Baatarsuren
- Myankhai Tumurtogtokh Demid
- Altjin Otgontogs Namsrai
- Tsorosbai Damdinsuren Damba
- Tumurjin Damdinbazar Ragchaa
- Ishtumur Avirmed Choijil
- Ibrail Taishi Tserendagva Purevdorj
- Nachgai Zairan Purev Zunduin
The film begins during a period of Mongolian civil strife in the 1470s. A hundred years after the dissolution of Genghis Khan’s empire, the country is ravaged by tribal wars, with the last descendants of Genghis facing threats from the Oirad and other tribes as well as from the neighboring Ming Empire. The Mongolians are ruled by Manduul Khan, believed to be the only direct male descendant of the Chinggisid lineage. When Manduul Khan’s first wife, Queen Yungen, is discovered to be barren, Manduul chooses Mandukhai, the seventeen-year-old daughter of one of his former ministers, to be his junior wife, hoping she will bear him a son. Mandukhai, however, gives birth to a girl, Altanshagai.
Ismeel Taiji, a leading minister to the Khan and the brother of Queen Yungen, succeeds in killing Manduul on the battlefield without being suspected of the murder. With the Khan dead, Mandukhai becomes the acting ruler, since she has borne a child to him. She refuses to cede leadership to the dukes and princes who, instigated by Ismeel, fight each other to the death for the right to take the throne. Instead, she declares that one male descendant of the Golden Lineage is alive, in hiding, information that had been bought to her just previously by a servant girl.
Mandukhai leads her troops to the hiding place of the missing descendant, a ten-year-old boy, but discovers that he has already been kidnapped by Count Unubold, her former sweetheart, who also wants to take the throne. Mandkhai outwits Unubold and recovers the child, Batmunkh Dayan, and names him heir to the throne. While she is away from the palace, Queen Yungen poisons Mandukhai’s only child, Altanshagai, to death. Mandukhai sets aside her intense despair and grief in order to fulfill her duty of maintaining the unity of the state while the new khan is still an infant. She returns to the palace, determined to continue. She is advised by Minister Satai, a loyal statesman and tutor to Batmunkh Dayan.
When Batmunkh comes of age, Mandukhai, some twenty years his senior, marries him in order to avoid any challenge to his standing. She then leads his troops into battle to secure the state’s interests in Western and Eastern Mongolia, and scores brilliant victories.
Although the empire is seemingly stable, Ismeel Taiji, who is secretly being encouraged by the Ming rulers of China, continues his covert attempts to secure the throne for himself and his relatives. He arranges for Altjin, a young female cousin to Ismeel, to become the mistress of Batmunkh. Meanwhile, Mandukhai has become pregnant by her new husband and is away on a mission to retrieve the State Stamp, stolen by Count Unubold at the instigation of Ismeel Taiji. While on the march, Mandukhai delivers twin boys, Ulsbold and Turbold. While she is still in bed, Count Unubold arrives to return the State Stamp and swears allegiance to her, recognizing her and her husband Batmunkh Dayan as the lawful rulers of the Mongols.
When the twin boys are seven years old, war erupts in Western Mongolia, where Ibrail Taishi seeks to elevate himself to the position of Jonon or Duke. Batmunkh appoints his young son Ulsbold to be the Jonon, despite Mandukhai’s protests. The Oirads murder Ulsbold upon his arrival in Western Mongolia, which prompts Batmunkh to declare war on them.
Batmunkh departs with his troops for Western Mongolia to fight the army of Ibrail Taishi. Just as he is about to overwhelm that army, he finds himself under attack from the army of the Ming, with Ismeel Taiji openly at their side.
While Batmunkh is tied up in battle, Ismeel, assuming that the Chinese will defeat Batmunkh, returns to the palace to slaughter all the remaining defenders, including Mandukhai. Mandukhai manages to send a message to Count Unubold to come to the rescue, and he arrives to find Ismeel in the act of killing her after she refuses his demand that she become his queen. Unubold seizes Ismeel, but he is too late to save her.
Batmunkh triumphs in battle and overcomes the Chinese army. He reunites the Mongols. The film concludes with Batmunkh executing Ismeel and Altjiin, and honoring Mandukhai as a great Mongolian queen.
The historical Mandukhai Tsetsen Khatun, or Queen (“Khatun”) Mandukhai the Wise, was the daughter of Chorosbai (Tsorosbai), the chingsang or grand councillor of the Ongud Mongols in eastern Mongolia, though some accounts say she was a daughter of Tumur, who ruled as Khan from 1463 to 1467. She became a junior wife and later the widow of the Khagan or Khan of Khans, Manduul, the twenty-seventh successor of Genghis Khan, who is believed to have reigned from approximately 1470 to 1479, or slightly earlier. Her portrayal in the film reflects the little that is known of her life and political involvement, which is largely based on later records. As shown in the film, she ensured that Batmunkh Dayan Khan, the son of Bold Jonon and the last surviving descendant of Genghis through Khubilai Khan, was made the Khan after the early death of her first husband, Mandul. She took the young khan under her protection and later married him, proclaiming him Khan by the authority gained through her marriage to Manduul Khan.
According to tradition, Mandukhai was herself a leading warrior and led the army that conquered the rival Oirad tribe and restored hegemony to the eastern Mongols. She is considered to have made the decision herself to declare war on the Oirads. Queen Mandukhai became a symbol of the crucial importance in Mongolian history of maintaining national unity under a single ruler.
A large part of Queen Mandukhai’s place in history is that of a preserver of the Golden Lineage of Genghis Khan, which elsewhere in Eurasia also played a role in legitimizing the reigns of Timur the Lame in Central Asia, and of the Mughal Dynasty in India. This metaphor of dynastic descent is used in the film to underline the primacy of unity and stability in state governance, and the certainty of chaos, violence and fragmentation if unity is not maintained. This message is conveyed through Satai’s reference, recalling a famous Mongolian proverb, to arrows that cannot be broken in half if they are held together. The political theme is expressed in subjective terms by the scenes which show Mandukhai renouncing her personal feelings and wishes in order to maintain her loyalty to the unity of the state.
The film is an outstanding example of extremely fine, sustained character acting in the Stanislavski tradition, with extraordinary intensity of inner purpose, suffering and motivation conveyed largely through eye-movement, minimal facial expression, and silences.