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

Wind River Movie Review

Wind River Movie Review

After writing the superb Sicario and Hell or High Water, Taylor Sheridan moves back into...

The Vault Movie Review

The Vault Movie Review

Filmmakers Dan Bush and Conal Byrne attempt a mash-up of a frantic heist movie with...

Goon: Last of the Enforcers Movie Review

Goon: Last of the Enforcers Movie Review

The 2012 Canadian comedy Goon was one of those surprising little films that snuck up...

Detroit Movie Review

Detroit Movie Review

After The Hurt Locker and Zero Dark Thirty, Kathryn Bigelow and Mark Boal reteam to...

Logan Lucky Movie Review

Logan Lucky Movie Review

Good news: Steven Soderbergh's well-publicised retirement from directing only lasted about four years. He's back...

American Made Movie Review

American Made Movie Review

An enjoyably freewheeling tone and Tom Cruise's star wattage combine to make this an entertaining...

An Inconvenient Sequel: Truth to Power Movie Review

An Inconvenient Sequel: Truth to Power Movie Review

It's been a decade since Al Gore's wake-up-call documentary won the Oscar. And here he...

Advertisement
The Hitman's Bodyguard Movie Review

The Hitman's Bodyguard Movie Review

It really doesn't matter that this movie is utterly ridiculous, because the central pairing of...

Final Portrait Movie Review

Final Portrait Movie Review

A relaxed, amusing true story about noted Swiss painter and sculptor Alberto Giacometti, this sharply...

Tom of Finland Movie Review

Tom of Finland Movie Review

Finnish artist Tuoko Laaksonen used the name "Tom of Finland" as he drew explicit illustrations...

A Ghost Story Movie Review

A Ghost Story Movie Review

Filmmaker David Lowery reunites the stars from his offbeat Western Ain't Them Bodies Saints for...

Atomic Blonde Movie Review

Atomic Blonde Movie Review

From the co-director of John Wick, this similarly styled action romp puts Charlize Theron front...

Girls Trip Movie Review

Girls Trip Movie Review

This movie's premise basically sounds like The Hangover with added black girl power. But it's...

Captain Underpants: The First Epic Movie Movie Review

Captain Underpants: The First Epic Movie Movie Review

There's so much manic energy in this animated action comedy that it can't help but...

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.