Genghis Khan’ s name strikes fear in the minds of people everywhere. The history books label him a barbarian. Folklore denounces him as a blood-hungry savage. But do you know the real man behind the centuries-long bad press?

A new award-winning film called Mongol sets out to debunk the myth of Genghis Khan as an immoral sadist. And the person telling that tale is as unlikely a champion as one might get.

Despite Sergei Bodrov’s Russian heritage, this writer-turned-director was adamant to buck the grudge between his native (former) Soviet Union and Mongolia. That sense of rebellion led to his helming the film about Mongolia’s most famous son. After discovering a book called The Legend of the Black Arrow, which was a story based on the Mongols and the Turks, Bodrov was hooked.

As the story in the film goes, young Genghis Khan – born Temudgin – lives his life as the son of a proud Khan in Mongolia. As a youth, he chooses for himself a young bride named Borte at the urgings of his beloved father.

When a rival tribe poisons and kills his dad, Temudgin’s life is turned upside down. His own clansmen as well as rival Mongols turn on his family and soil its honor. Temudgin vows that he will avenge his father’s name and legacy.

Years later, this young man with so much tenacity seeks out the girl he chose for his bride, and the two set out into married life with one another. However, circumstance puts the young lovers on a road of unexpected happenings and developments. Through it all, Temudgin and Borte stay loyal to one another.

“It’s an unbelievable and, again, unfamiliar story. A nine-year-old boy picks out his bride, and though he doesn’t know it yet, his life is changed forever,” says Bodrov. “Of course, at the end of his life, Genghis Khan has hundreds of wives, but his whole life, the most important woman was Borte. She was not only his wife, she was a very close advisor. He discussed all the major decisions with her. It was like a modern relationship, a partnership.”

It’s a well-established fact that the story of Genghis Khan (a man who lived in the 1200s) has probably been passed down via word of mouth – as opposed to relying upon more credible sources such as eyewitness accounts and DNA evidence. Bodrov is quick to assert that many liberties may have been taken historically to paint his subject in a dark and unfavorable light. For the director, it was that level of unfairness that pushed him forward to play devil’s advocate with his subject matter.

One of the few glaring liberties taken within the film is Bodrov’s casting of a Japanese actor to play Temudgin as an adult. The director admits to scouring the globe to find just the perfect mixture of sex appeal, soul and strength. He found his lead in 34-year-old Asano Tadanobu.

“I was looking for the best, and I was looking for who would catch my eye and who would have this certain power. And Asano, of course, is a very special guy,” explains Bodrov. “He’s a versatile actor, but he’s also a musician, an artist, a designer. He’s very broad in his interests. When we met, there was no fuss. No, ‘Oh, I really want this part.’ There was a kind of mystery to him, as well as a self-respect and dignity.”

Another stand out in the cast is Khulan Chuluun. This actress is the face behind the fiercely loyal wife of Genghis Khan, Borte.

Together, these talented actors – along with a very passionate director – have re-written history with dynamic results.

Mongol releases in select theaters June 6.