Published on March 29th, 2006 | by Greg0
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.