I write film and TV reviews at DVDFanatic.com. Here are synopsis' and links to those reviews.
Once deemed one of China’s most luminary artists, filmmaker Chen Kaige (the exquisite Farewell my Concubine and The Emperor and the Assassin) has had a series of critical and popular missteps in recent years. In what could be an attempt to shore up his reputation, Kaige has returned to the kind of filmmaking that made him famous—the epic. Unfortunately, his latest film, The Promise, only seems to solidify everyone’s worst fears.
Don’t be fooled by the fact that The Promise was nominated for a Golden Globe for Best Foreign Film in 2005 (it takes these things a while it make it to our shores), or that it is the most expensive film China has ever bankrolled. What sounds good on paper fails miserably on the screen.
The Promise is the story of a young waif, Qingcheng, who makes a deal with a sorceress: she can henceforth live a life of luxury, but in exchange true love will remain forever beyond her reach and all the men she falls for will die. The deal is struck, but what seemed like a perfect arrangement to a hungry child ends up haunting the love-starved adult. This is especially true once Qingcheng’s life is saved by Kunlun, a slave to the great General Guangming, whom Qingcheng mistakenly believes is her rescuer. Kunlun himself is shrouded in mystery, ignorant of his origins and possessing supernatural abilities. When an evil Duke threatens them all, free will and fate will be put to the ultimate test.
The plot appears to be an engaging, if somewhat convoluted, Chinese fairy tale. But Kaige, in his effort to return to the top, decided to forgo traditional storytelling and tackle the mystical martial art genre of wuxia films (e.g.: Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon, Hero, House of Flying Daggers and most recently, Curse of the Golden Flower), so influential in Chinese cinema today. The result, unfortunately, is an artistic disaster.
Attempting to best his wuxia predecessors, Kiage didn’t rely on wirework stunts alone (clumsy and almost wholly ungraceful as they are in this film, nothing like the liquid poetry of Yimou Zhang’s films), but decided to inject lavish amounts of computer-generated effects. Too bad the CGI is so amateurish as to be almost laughable. The Promise, ultimately, is a flimsy story held together with the cheapest of smoke and mirrors and represents not a return to greatness for Chen Kiage, but a spectacular embarrassment.
The Promise is an over-wrought and laughably goofy film, an empty and pale imitation of the far better films that have gone on before it.
To read the full review, click here.