“Love can never be measured by sacrifice.”
Myn Bala: Warriors of the Steppe is the story of Sartai, a Kazakh boy who witnesses his village’s destruction and his family’s death at the hands of Dzungars. Seven years later, he’s become the de facto leader of their band of Kazakh refugees living in the mountains. With his best friends, Taimas and Korlan, Sartai leads a small group of young warriors in attacks against the Dzungars while their grandfather figure attempts to convince the khans of the area to unite and fight off the invaders. Some still resist and choose to cooperate with the Dzungars. Zere, the object of Sartai’s affection, is the daughter of one such khan.
I know more about Kazakhstan than most Americans, but I still don’t know a lot. The first half was a little hard for me to get into because of the unfamiliar history, but the second half picked up steam and barreled toward the conclusion. The heart of the film is Sartai’s need for revenge and freedom, but the interactions between the three main teenagers added compelling complexity. They’re like siblings, but Sartai is the leader, the standout, the hero. Taimas’s descent into jealousy is much more than that because he’s the one to shed light on how Sartai’s actions, however noble, are leading their clansmen to their deaths.
And Korlan! I want to talk about Korlan because she is amazing. She’s wicked good with a bow and can keep up with the boys in battles. The movie is peppered with hints that she might be in love with Sartai, but that falls by the wayside when Sartai is injured. Zere runs away to join him, but when her father and his men come to retrieve her, they’re attacked by the Dzugars. Korlan’s two companions fall in the fight, but it’s Korlan who gets Zere out of the chaos. When Zere’s horse exhausts itself, Korlan offers her own even as the Dzugars come galloping up the hill. Korlan tells Zere the horse knows the way to their camp and sends her off, turning to face half a dozen Dzugars with just a bow and some knives.
Myn Bala is good, heart-pounding fun with a sweeping story and intricate costumes. The scenery is gorgeous and shows off the lovely juxtaposition of the stunning mountains with the flat steppes. It made me want to go back to Kaz to see all the places I missed.