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The Promise
2005 - PG-13 - 102 Mins.
Director: Chen Kaige
Producer: Hong Chen, Sanping Han, Dong-ju Kim, Ernst Etchie Stroh
Written By: Chen Kaige
Starring: Dong-Kun Jang, Hiroyuki Sanada, Cecilia Cheung, Nicholas Tse
Review by: Chris Beaumont
Official Site:

Just relaxing in the big bird cage....
Frustrating. In a word, that is what this movie was. It seemed to promise an experience similar to 'Hero' and 'House of Flying Daggers,' but staged in a more strictly fantastical realm.

I am not sure that I could adequately explain just what happened in 'The Promise,' I'm not sure I understand exactly what happened in fact. Good guys are bad buys, bad guys are good guys, love isn't love, people are not who they seem to be, and in total it is all just too much. On top of the convoluted plot, the effects are awful, and for a film that is reportedly the most expensive ever made in China, that is not something to be proud of.

The story involves a general who uses slaves as a diversion in a battle where his forces are massive underdogs. Apparently, it is heroic to lead slaves to the slaughter in order to gain the upperhand in what may or may not be a winning battle. This running of the slaves leads to the introduction of an overly loyal, and not terribly bright character. Keep in mind that this all follows an opening sequence featuring a young girl who is given a choice by a goddess. The choice will set about most of what happens for the rest of the film, yet despite the prominence as an introduction, remains unexplained and forgotten for the rest of the film.

The offer and its acceptance involves a young girl offered the chance to spend her life as the most beautiful woman in the world, and to enjoy everything her heart desires, except for love. She will never be able to find happiness with a man, and all her relationships will contain at most, a few moments of fleeting happiness. To me, this would make a great basis for a fairy tale fantasy.

Instead, the film is overrun with other plot threads involving a cloak of eternal life, running faster than time, mistaken identity, misdirected hate/love, all of which culminate in a climax which contains no emotional resonance.

Director Chen Kaige did create an intiguing visual environment for the characters to inhabit. For as bad as the effects are, there are still many shots that are stunning on the big screen. Falling flower petals, a battle around a tree, the lead actress in a feather suit while imprisoned in a golden birdcage, and beautiful scenery abound. It truly did not seem like anywhere on earth. Cecelia Cheung, as Qingcheng, is absolutely stunning, and exudes phenomenal grace and presence on the screen. It is a shame she was not featured more.

Bottom line -- not a complete loss, but a huge letdown from what I had been hoping for. The Promise has some wonderful visuals, and some nice elements that would have been better in another film. It is worth seeing on the big screen, so long as you have tempered your expectations. Mildly Recommended for it's visual feast.
Movie Guru Rating
Disappointing.  Had the right ingredients and should have been better. Disappointing.  Had the right ingredients and should have been better.
  2 out of 5 stars

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