Arts 25

Published on March 29th, 2006 | by Greg


The Promise: an Eastern Fantasy

The movie The Promise, not yet out in the US, is not getting very good reviews so far. IMDB has already marked it a 5, which is not good on their scale. Plenty of people have criticized it for trying to cater to the western market. They’re saying the plot holes are huge, the characters’ actions don’t make sense, and that Chinese film now consists of pretty colors, a lot of fighting, and poetic lines of gibberish. This is not one of those types of reviews.

I loved this movie.

I have been regretting, ever since I started learning Mandarin, that I didn’t learn Japanese, Korean, Cantonese, or some language with a film industry that didn’t make me want to kill myself after each and every movie viewing: To Live; Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon; Beijing Bicycle. All the unrequited love, the Communist era and pre-Communist era hardships, the fact that the hero always makes the wrong decision, and that someone always gets killed. The only thing Chinese cinema is really known for is bringing on the pain.

Not so with this movie. It had all the hopes for a horridly depressing tearjerker. It starts off with a random, lesser god offers the future Princess Qingcheng, played by Cecilia Cheung (who is a refreshing replacement for Zhang Ziyi), riches beyond her wildest dreams, but only if everyone she loves dies. Bargaining a full stomach and nice clothes at the age of 10 for eternal loneliness, we see the girl grown into a beautiful princess and already the downfall of an emperor, and the cause of civil war.

This Helen of Troy has two main love interests in the movie, neither actually Chinese (one with a definite Japanese accent and the other of Korean descent). The Japanese actor plays a star general named Guangming. The Korean guy plays his slave, Kunlun, and a great runner from the land of snow. While dressed in the general’s clothing, the slave kills the emperor and wins the princess’s love, only to have her fall for the real general. And then, there was the bad guy…

If I ever make a top 5 celebrities-I-can-sleep-with-in-a-relationship list, General Wuhuan will be on it. Awesome hair, wonderfully evil looks, and a snappy dresser. The actor, Nicholas Tse, was in The New Police Story, with Jackie Chan, and A Chinese Tall Story, which just came out. Wuhuan takes over the emperor’s castle to steal the princess, but then the general (really the slave) kills the emperor and steals the princess. So Wuhuan then must pursue the general. The mistaken identity contrasts really well with the slave’s search for his own identity. And white contrasts well with the Wuhuan’s dreamy eyes.

The style of the movie is delivered in the usual: beautiful colors, awesome scenery. The costumes are especially noteworthy, with the colors being chosen well for each character and feathers for all. An actual story was there too, though the style of the story was more prominent than the plot. In essence it was a fairytale, with fantastic characters, unrealities, and child-like simplicity. Some compared it to Lord of the Rings and the fantasy element was definitely there, but Hollywood can’t produce films like that. Whatever it was, it was all East.

That is, without all the pain. There was a lot of angst in the movie, but for the most part the characters did a lot of things right. They were strong characters with competing personalities, but that sense of doom hanging over every Chinese character’s head wasn’t there for them. I had no worries.

There were definite downsides to the movie. The strong Japanese accent on the general, the what seemed like dubbing for the Princess’s voice (she smokes?), the simple dialogue and borderline cheesy lines, and the typical physically-impossible feats. (At one point I was convinced they stole Asterix and Obelix’s magic potion because the slave was running like a cartoon character!) However, some bad CG aside, if you like action, fantasy, and pretty colors, you’ll probably love this movie.

About the Author

Greg dreamed up the idea for the Truly Network while living in Hawaii, which began with a single site called TrulyObscure. In 2010, when advertisers and readers were requesting coverage beyond the scope of that site, TrulyNet was launched, reaching a broader audience over a variety of niche sites. Formerly the head technology correspondent for the Des Moines Register at age 16, he has since lived and worked in five states and two countries, helping a list of organizations and companies that includes the United States Census Bureau, TripAdvisor, Events Photo Group, Berlitz, and Computer Geeks. He also served as the Content Strategy Manager for HearPlanet, a multi-platform app that has reached over a million users and has been featured in the New York Times, Hemispheres Magazine, National Geographic Adventure, Fox Business News, PC Magazine, and even Apple’s own iPhone ads. Greg has written as a restaurant critic and feature journalist for a number of national and international publications, including City Weekend Magazine, Red Egg Magazine, the Newton Daily News, Capital Change Magazine, and an arm of China Daily, Beijing Weekend. In addition, he has served as a consulting editor for the Foreign Language Press of Beijing, as well as a writer and editor for the George Washington University Hatchet, the school newspaper of his alma mater. Originally from Iowa, Greg is currently living in the West Village of Manhattan.

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