When I first heard about Nomad: The Warrior a little over two years ago, I have to admit to being a bit intrigued. The premise sounded interesting enough, the images I saw looked cool, and I was enough of a fan of cast members Mark Dacascos and Jason Scott Lee that I made a mental note to check it out when it was finally released. I waited and waited, but it was never released, until finally I pretty much forgot about it all together. But now it has finally arrived on DVD, and I can say without hesitation that the wait was in no way, shape or form worth it, as Nomad: The Warrior is a monumentally disappointing mess.
Set in 18th century Kazakhstan, this muddled, wannabe epic chronicles the tale of Mansur (Kuno Becker), the son of a sultan and the descendant of Genghis Khan. According Kazakh history and folklore, Mansur would grow up to become the fierce warrior Ablai Khan, who would unify the various tribes of Kazakhstan and lead his people to freedom from oppressive rule. As the film starts out, it is prophesized that a great warrior will come to deliver the Kazakhs from the tyrannical rule of the Galdan Ceren (Doskhan Zholzhaxynov), the ruthless leader of the Jungars. Fearing his days are numbered, Galdan Ceren orders the son of a Kazakh sultan killed, but the child is rescued by Oraz (Jason Scott Lee), a long-winded philosopher who is charged with raising the boy, and training him to be a great fighter. Twenty years later, Oraz has not aged a day, but the baby he saved has grown up to be Mansur, who is the supreme asskicker of the Kazakh steppes.
Now, as simple as the plot sounds so far, it is actually incredibly difficult to follow, and it only gets more complicated from there. Unaware of his royal lineage, Mansur, along with his best friend and blood brother Erali (Jay Hernandez), has spent years preparing for the inevitable showdown with the Jungars. But before that can happen, Mansur and Erali must contend with the fact that they are both in love with Gaukhar (Ayanat Yesmagambetova), who only has feelings for Mansur. This creates what we like to call "dramatic tension." Unfortunately, before anything dramatic or tense can happen, Gaukhar is captured by the Jungars, and forced to be the bride of Sharish (Dacascos), the sadistic warrior that killed Mansur's mother twenty years earlier, but who does not appear to have aged. Mansur does not know that Sharish has taken Gaukhar as his bride, but he does know that Sharish killed his mother, so when the two square off in a fight, our hero has bloodlust coursing through his veins. And as if all of this soap operatic crapola was not enough, Erali is also captured by the Jungars, who use him as a gladiator, which of course means that at some point there will be deadly rumble between him and his sworn brother.
Believe me when I say that my synopsis of Nomad: The Warrior more than does the film justice. This is one of those plodding films with so many twists, turns and cliché coincidences that it becomes difficult to follow what is going on. Most of the time it seems like crucial scenes are missing--as if this was a four-hour film cobbled down to just under two hours. Making matters worse is the cast of forgettable characters devoid of any dimension or humanity. It's not so much that the film is difficult to follow--which it is--as it's impossible to care about anyone in the story.
Apparently, Nomad: The Warrior was the brainchild of Kazakhstan president Nursultan Nazarbayev, who wanted to see a film that honored his great culture. Too bad this film ain't it. Yes, there is some incredible production design and great costumes, but that's about all you get. Rustam Ibragimbekov's script is simply terrible--an overwrought hodgepodge of melodrama and clumsy dialog. Poorly written voice over narration attempts to make sense of the script, but it fails like every other word uttered in the movie. It is impossible to imagine Ibragimbekov's script as an actual screenplay. Instead, it comes across like something that may have been written on random scraps of paper.
Bad weather forced the production of Nomad: The Warrior to shut down for nearly a year, and when filming recommenced a new director and cinematographer were brought on. The stylistic differences between directors Sergei Brodrov and Ivan Passer, however, is negligible, made barely noticeable by a script so glaringly bad it diverts attention from the myriad of other flaws overflowing in this film.
Giving a film like Nomad: The Warrior a negative review is not exactly fun. Clearly people put a lot of time and energy into making this film, and in all likelihood it is very near and dear to the hearts of some of those people. But nothing can change the fact that this is not a good film. It begs, borrows and steals one hackneyed cliché after another from a long list of historical epics. What's worse is that at no time does the film even manage to improve or put a new spin on the tired material it recycles with such banal lackluster.