Promise, The (2006)

Reviewed By Doug Bentin
Posted 06/20/06 03:27:34

"It’s all wonderfully colorful and exotic."
4 stars (Worth A Look)

“The Promise” cries out for the brilliance of western computer graphics, but if it were remade in America—not that there’s much chance of that—it would have to be directed by Chen Kaige, creator of the original Chinese version.

As the film opens, we are on the field of battle after death has claimed the soldiers. A little girl swipes a piece of bread from the clutched fist of a corpse only to have it grabbed away from her by a young boy in a suit of armor. He offers to return it if she will be his slave. Starving, she agrees but then conks him with his own helmet, grabs the pitiful meal, and rushes away.

She meets the goddess Manshen by a lake (Chen Hong) who tells her that she can lead a life of riches if she will agree to one proviso: that any man she falls if love with, she will lose. Money or happiness? That’s no choice for a child who is hungry.

Twenty years later, that girl has grown into Qingcheng (Cecilia Cheung), consort of the king. She is stolen from him by Kunlun (Jang Dong-kun), a slave who is wearing his master’s armor and is thereby mistaken to be the great general Guangming (Hiroyuki Sanada). The general is the sworn enemy of Wuhuan (Nicholas Tse) who uses his slave/assassin Snow Wolf (Liu Ye) to find Qingcheng.

I hope I haven’t given you a headache because despite the confusion an overly simple plot synopsis might create, “The Promise” is as easy to follow on screen as the most basic fable. And that’s what it is—a story of wizards and warriors, love and death, happiness found and lost. There really aren’t any other significant characters in the story and each of these is dressed distinctively so they are easy to tell apart from a distance.

Director of photography Peter Pau does wonders with the palette of rich colors as utilized by production designer Tim Yip. With a budget of around 35 million dollars, “The Promise” is the most expensive film ever made in China, and when the special effects are not on the screen, it looks it. All goes well until the CG take over, and then you probably won’t be able to keep from jerking away from the experience of the film’s color and romance by it’s 1970s level special effects.

And the real shame is that the imagination of writers Zhang Tan and Chen Kaige is so much more challenging than that on display in most Hollywood effects movies. If Kaige had available technology to create what he saw in his mind, this would be a classic fantasy.

As it is, I can only recommend the movie to people who know they can accept inferior screen visuals. If bad effects make you giggle, this is not the movie for you.

And that’s a pity because “The Promise” is rich tale of those things which are fundamentally alike in all cultures. Honor. Fear. Loyalty. Love. Love is always the same.

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