The Promise

"Weak"

The Promise Review


Chen Kaige has always had a weakness for the theatrical, something that can be put to grand and operatic effect in films like Farewell My Concubine and Temptress Moon. It can also lead to quite questionable dramatic choices - or just blatantly silly ones, as is the case his newest, The Promise. The biggest budgeted film in Chinese history ($35 million, about what Bruckheimer spends on catering), it's another in a string of costume action epics that have constituted the bulk of Chinese cinematic export to this country over the past few years. So why does it look so cheap and inspire not awe, but giggling?

It all starts off quite epic. Back in China's distant mystical past, there's a kingdom in which a battle had been waged, and a young girl scavenging food from dead soldiers. She's offered a tempting proposition by the Goddess Manshen, a floating apparition who seems to like messing with mortals: the girl will have everything she's ever desired, but everyone she loves will be taken away from her - unless time runs backward, snow falls in the spring, and the dead rise from the grave. The girl, not having a lot of options, agrees. This sets the stage for a grand, widescreen, Technicolor love triangle two decades down the line, the sort of thing one would imagine that Kaige could pull off in his sleep. The result is something quite closer to self-parody.

The script isn't big on exposition, so after the fairytale opening, the film shifts into battle mode, as an arrogant general (Hiroyuki Sanada) prepares to fight an onslaught of barbarians. After a strange interlude involving a stampede of bulls and a slave who outruns them on his hands and knees, the general rides off to save the king, who is threatened by yet more enemies. The complications quickly pile up, and before long, the king has been assassinated, a slave (Don-Kun Jang) has impersonated the general, the princess (Cecilia Cheung) - has fallen in love with both of them, and the foppish sadist Duke of the North (Nicholas Tse) threatens all of them. Hardly five minutes goes by without a declaration of love or a stunning betrayal, and the leaves are always falling.

Massive budget notwithstanding, The Promise barely delivers the goods necessary for the genre. Kaige relies overly much on special effects shots, which are almost without exception clunky and intrusive - Robert Rodriguez could have whipped up something better on his Mac in a weekend. With this laughable a backdrop, the already hard-to-swallow script quickly dives into ludicrousness. Kaige (who also wrote the script) has neither Zhang Yimou's grace with imagery or nimbleness with story and action, and the result is a film that lumbers when it should dance. This is not to say that the film doesn't have a single card up its sleeve - a set-piece involving a barn-sized golden birdcage is singularly impressive. Only near the end does Kaige manage to whip the action into any semblance of the dizzy melodramatic heights that one might have expected from him. A film like this, which can barely muster up one good gravity-defying sword fight, hardly seems worth it.

Aka Wu Ji. Reviewed at the 2006 Tribeca Film Festival.

Is it live or is it Final Fantasy XVIII?



The Promise

Facts and Figures

Run time: 121 mins

In Theaters: Thursday 15th December 2005

Box Office USA: $0.6M

Distributed by: Warner Independent Pictures

Reviews

Contactmusic.com: 2 / 5

Rotten Tomatoes: 31%
Fresh: 24 Rotten: 53

IMDB: 5.6 / 10

Cast & Crew

Director:

Producer: Hong Chen, , Dong-ju Kim

Starring: as Erin Matthews, as Len Matthews, Ali Suliman as Abu-Hassan Mohammed, as Max Meyer, Pip Torrens as Major John Arbuthnot

Contactmusic


Links



Advertisement

New Movies

Star Wars: The Last Jedi Movie Review

Star Wars: The Last Jedi Movie Review

After the thunderous reception for J.J. Abrams' Episode VII: The Force Awakens two years ago,...

Daddy's Home 2 Movie Review

Daddy's Home 2 Movie Review

Like the 2015 original, this comedy plays merrily with cliches to tell a silly story...

The Man Who Invented Christmas Movie Review

The Man Who Invented Christmas Movie Review

There's a somewhat contrived jauntiness to this blending of fact and fiction that may leave...

Ferdinand Movie Review

Ferdinand Movie Review

This animated comedy adventure is based on the beloved children's book, which was published in...

Brigsby Bear Movie Review

Brigsby Bear Movie Review

Director Dave McCary makes a superb feature debut with this offbeat black comedy, which explores...

Battle of the Sexes Movie Review

Battle of the Sexes Movie Review

A dramatisation of the real-life clash between tennis icons Billie Jean King and Bobby Riggs,...

Shot Caller Movie Review

Shot Caller Movie Review

There isn't much subtlety to this prison thriller, but it's edgy enough to hold the...

Advertisement
The Disaster Artist Movie Review

The Disaster Artist Movie Review

A hilariously outrageous story based on real events, this film recounts the making of the...

Stronger Movie Review

Stronger Movie Review

Based on a true story about the 2013 Boston Marathon bombing, this looks like one...

Only the Brave Movie Review

Only the Brave Movie Review

Based on a genuinely moving true story, this film undercuts the realism by pushing its...

Wonder Movie Review

Wonder Movie Review

This film may be based on RJ Palacio's fictional bestseller, but it approaches its story...

Happy End  Movie Review

Happy End Movie Review

Austrian auteur Michael Haneke isn't known for his light touch, but rather for hard-hitting, award-winning...

Patti Cake$ Movie Review

Patti Cake$ Movie Review

Seemingly from out of nowhere, this film generates perhaps the biggest smile of any movie...

The Limehouse Golem Movie Review

The Limehouse Golem Movie Review

A Victorian thriller with rather heavy echoes of Jack the Ripper, this film struggles to...

Advertisement
Artists
Actors
    Filmmakers
      Artists
      Bands
        Musicians
          Artists
          Celebrities
             
              Artists
              Interviews
                musicians & bands in the news
                  actors & filmmakers in the news
                    celebrities in the news

                      Go Back in Time using our News archive to see what happened on a particular day in the past.