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L (2005)
The Promise

Reviewed by: Hyomil
Date: 04/07/2011

Reviewer Score: 4

Reviewed by: j.crawford
Date: 06/11/2007
Summary: great looking film

The Promise is a great looking film that relates the mythical story of a young woman and the men who love her. It is a cool fantasy story with flying people who have mystical powers and strength. Renowned director Chen Kaige works with a pan-Asian cast that features the exquisite Cecilia Cheung Pak-Chi and the handsome Nicholas Tse Ting-Fung. The cinematography is very good while some of the CG effects don't look so hot. The costumes and set designs are extraordinary.

The action sequences are quite compelling. Chen was smart to hire Stephen Tung Wai and Dion Lam Dik-On to serve as action directors. Both of them are talented directors with many good films of their own. The movie garnered a Golden Globe nomination for Best Foreign Film in 2006. I liked it a lot, and so will you, if you like this epic kind of film.

Reviewer Score: 7

Reviewed by: mrblue
Date: 06/28/2006

With a large budget, an international all-star cast, and a prestigious director (not to mention an official entry into the Oscar race for best foreign film), many potential viewers for The Promise had high hopes. Seemingly -- based on the many scathing reviews this production has garnered -- those hopes have been dashed with a quickness. So when this particular reviewer started up the DVD, my hopes were not all that high. I will agree with the assesment that many others have had that perhaps Chen Kaige was pehpas a bit too ambitious here. But, im my opinion, The Promise is a enjoyable wuxia picture. It certainly has its' flaws, but it's not up (or down, if you prefer) to the level of recent efforts like Jackie Chan's The Myth.

The Promise's biggest flaw is its' use of special effects. While there are some shots that look spectacular, too many feature obvious-looking CGI, and that tends to take the viewer out of the story. It feels like Kaige should have made The Promise a green screen effort like Sky Captain and the World of Tomorrow, or just a fully animated or CGIed picture. But I was able to forgive the shortcomings of the effects for the most part. I enjoyed the simplicity of the story here versus many other wuxia films (though there are some annoyingly glaring plot holes), the acting was good, and Cecilia Cheung certainly provides some nice eye candy. Sure, The Promise isn't the second coming of Crouching Tiger Hidden Dragon or anything like that, but if you're into fantasy swordsplay movies, you could do a whole lot worse than this.

[review from hkfilm.net]

Reviewer Score: 6

Reviewed by: JohnR
Date: 06/13/2006
Summary: Highly Recommended Fairytale

The Promise is an epic fantasy world brought to life. I think it is a direct descendant of Tsui Hark’s original Zu Warriors From the Magic Mountain. It took me two viewings to come to the conclusion that this is an excellent movie; the first time through I just liked it.

When I watched it initially I believe I was suffering from Crouching Tiger disease (CTHD Syndrome). When people affected by this disorder watch the latest blockbuster-hyped movie from an elite director (e.g. House of Flying Daggers) they pay little attention to the merits of the film they’re watching, but instead keep anticipating special effects and wire work that will absolutely blow them away, the way CTHD did, but better. Although there are nice representations of both these elements in The Promise (and a couple that mis-fire), they are properly used as tools to deliver a beautiful and actualized make-believe world where we can lose ourselves for a couple hours; they are not the purpose of the film and new heights of CGI was not the goal. They’re used because you can’t make a fantasy world this real without them, outside of animation.

The other thing that lowered my enjoyment the first time around was the early scene where the slave, while moving on all fours carrying a man on his back, outraces the bulls. It looked silly (still does after a second viewing) and seemed preposterous. My only suggestion to Chen Kaige (not that he should pay any attention to anything I have to say) would have been to explain the slave’s ability to run before demonstrating it, so it doesn’t come off looking so silly. But that’s a small point. Don’t let it set the tone of the movie for you when you watch.

Overall, the movie is a success. This is what well done movies can provide: pure entertainment. There are no moments of brilliant insight into the human condition, just some nice character sketches set in a wonderfully realized fairy tale world. The plot is simple, the cinematography and directing are exceptional, the visuals stunning, and the acting is adequate (except for Nicholas Tse, who dominates every scene he’s in – what a terrific performance!).

I think this is a movie I will get addicted to.

Reviewer Score: 9

Reviewed by: ewaffle
Date: 05/11/2006

We had a rare treat over the weekend, catching “The Promise” at a movie theater. Other than mega-blockbusters (Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon) East Asian films are rarely screened in the Detroit area. There is plenty of Arab cinema here—Detroit and its suburbs are home to a large and culturally vigorous Arab-American community—and at least one movie theater that programs Indian films exclusively, but with a small East Asian population there doesn’t seem to be enough demand to support regular showings of films from China, Korea, Southeast Asia or even Japan.

Generally they are programmed to coincide with a DVD release—“Infernal Affairs” played for a week, as did “Ong Bak” and a few others, so “The Promise” might be gone soon. If it is still playing on the weekend I plan to see it again. It is an enthralling and hyper-romantic fable with a goddess who asks trick questions, a damsel in distress who can disarm an attacking army by doffing her cloak, a good guy who is the gold standard of good, a bad guy who is outrageously evil and two equivocal characters, both of whom gain redemption literally with their last breath.

If the cinematography isn’t perfect it will do until perfection is attained. Peter Pau Tak-Hai shot such luminous films as “The Bride with White Hair” “Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon” and “A Fishy Story” and he almost outdoes himself here. There aren’t any shots, at least after just one viewing, that call attention to themselves—no flamboyant “look what I can do” with lighting and camera angles. Pau’s camera and lighting serve the story wonderfully. The score is masterful. It is always on target with what is happening on the screen but doesn’t underline the action. It is always present but never intrusive. Klaus Badelt, the composer, doesn’t have a huge body of work—about 25 movie scores, which is just getting started for a successful composer—but if he is able to do work of this quality for the next 15 or 20 years he will be thought of as the equal of Pino Donnagio, Howard Shore or James Newton Howard. Another 20 years or so and it will be Ennio Morricone, John Williams and Jerry Goldsmith. This may sound insane based on hearing only one score by Badelt but it really is that good.

Cecilia Cheung was incandescent as the Princess. Her beauty, while a possible distraction in other more gritty roles, served her very well here. She easily ran the scales from imperious, when she confronted Wuhuan massed army to heartbroken, when General Guangming was fooled into leaving her to both desperate and hopeful when she was locked up in the birdcage prison. Indeed one of the things I found wrong with “The Promise” was the overuse of CGI tears—during the scene between the Princess and Kunlun, when Kunlun tells her that he will testify that he killed the King while wearing the armor of the badly wounded general the Princess is shown in extreme close-up in profile. The eye we can see widens a bit, possibly because she understands that Kunlun is actually telling the truth and that he was her rescuer. But a computer generated tear rolled down her cheek just then, spoiling the moment.

Korean star Jang Dong-Gun was the slave—he has a very expressive face, here very open and honest. His part is written so that the audience will like him—he is always willing to sacrifice himself for his master, even to the extent of denying his feelings for the only woman he has ever loved. He moves from abject slave to national hero during the course of the movie and is believable every step of the way. Jang Dong-Gun is quite a guy; not only a movie star in Korea but also is a model and brand spokesman in great demand. His sheer star power is apparent from his first shot.

Wuhuan, as portrayed with lip-smacking glee by Nicholas Tse, is purely evil. He not only defeats his opponents but humiliates them personally because he enjoys it. He likes having other men in his power and when it comes time to do away with them he does it himself. No one—from the General to simple guards—is safe from his wrath. Hiroyuki Sanada’s performance as the General was often close enough to being over the top to be noticeable. The General was living a lie for most of the movie, and he really had to show it during close-ups from over Cecelia Cheung’s shoulder during an embrace. The General had manipulated Kunlun and the Princess in order to win back the earthly power he had lost. But now he had fallen in love with the Princess--and the Princess was in love with a false image of the General. He was aware of all of this and had to show every bit of it on his face during a few close-ups. It might be something that Olivier, Brando or Mifune in their prime could have done but it is just too much to ask of someone who is just a talented actor. Lau Yip as Snow Wolf had a great part and one with which the audience could easily identify but he was mainly makeup and costuming. Both Snow Wolf and the General went out on top—in each case the character died after making a noble and self-sacrificing decision.

The costuming and set design were almost special effects in themselves. The crimson armor was especially important and became a fetish. A slave wearing it convinced everyone that he was a great general and when the general was tricked into the trap set by his enemy he was led by the armor itself mounted on a standard. In only one case did the costumes, props and sets distract the audience from the story—this was whenever Goddess Manchen appeared. Showing up in human form, floating in the air, offering to solve human problems—but with a catch, there is always a catch when a god decides to intervene in worldly affairs—all of that made sense in the context of the fable and was necessary for the action to happen at all. But that hair, not only flowing straight up but also through a floating halo, made it difficult—impossible for me—to concentrate on what she was saying. Chen Kaige went overboard with the CGI in creating Manchen. Wuhuan’s costumes were very elaborate and beautifully designed but the most outrageous of them only had a few seconds of screen time, so they were very noticeable but not distracting. Regarding Chen Hong, she may well be a goddess or at least someone with some supernatural powers. Playing a featured role, even if it was all shot in front of a blue screen over a few days and being the production manager of the same movie is a task beyond the capabilities of most humans but she is credited as doing both.

Other than the Goddess (and all those damned tears) Chen Kaige used digital special effects the way they should be—to advance the plot, develop characters and do amazing scenes that simply can’t be done otherwise. One critic wrote that the stampede of the barbarians’ bulls was like the dinosaur stampede in “King Kong”—both might have been modeled on the running of the bulls in Pamplona, with huge creatures chasing key characters through a very narrow space. While there may be something to this, Peter Jackson’s dinosaurs wore out their welcome very quickly—the chase soon became an exercise is “Is it over yet?” while in “The Promise” the subsequent destruction of the barbarians couldn’t have happened without the stampede.

Reviewer Score: 8

Reviewed by: MrBooth
Date: 04/17/2006
Summary: 7/10 - strange, but good

THE PROMISE is a very odd film, which seems not quite sure what it wants to be - or perhaps is just not quite what I (or others) expected it to be. It's a luscious fairy tale about grand themes of love and fate, but the tone and style are... hard to pin down. Sometimes it seems like we're watching an epic tragedy, and at others it seems like we're watching a comedy... at least, Hiroyuki Sanada seems to think he's doing pantomime (and the special effects are sometimes reminiscent of Kung Fu Hustle). I honestly have no idea whether the film was meant to be (intermittently) funny or bits were just badly done.

Whatever criticisms anybody wants to lay on the film, I defy anyone to say that it's not absolutely beautiful. The production designs and cinematography are absolutely stunning - some of the camerawork is really amongst the best I've seen (so no surprise to see Peter Pau's name in the credits). Some of the CGI is breathtaking... and some of it is not. The film certainly wasn't trying to look realistic (Nic Tse's costumes alone should be proof of that), but I don't think it was meant to look quite so cartoony as it sometimes does.

At the beginning I was a little bemused by the film, but also intrigued... it did seem like it was a bit of a mess though. As things progressed, either the film got into its groove or I joined it there, and it all kind of worked. It's like a cocktail of HERO, HOUSE OF FLYING DAGGERS and KUNG FU HUSTLE with a chaser of SUPERMAN... odd, but enjoyable.

I still think Hiroyuki Sanada was mis-cast or mis-directed, but Cecilia Cheung is fantastic (and luminous) and Nic Tse is in good form too (in a role that's _meant_ to be a bit pantomime). The real star is the cinematography though, and for visuals alone the film is certainly worth a watch.


Reviewer Score: 7

Reviewed by: Gaijin84
Date: 04/07/2006
Summary: A multi-national cast in a very good fairy tale...

"The Promise" is a fantastical fairy-tale like story that seems to fit comfortably in the realm of the wuxia film. Jang Dong-Gun is Kunlun the Slave, whose extraordinary speed allows him to literally rise up and serve General Guangming (Hiroyuki Sanada), aka The Master of Crimson Armor, in his quest to capture the capital city and with it the love of the stunning Princess Qingcheng (Cecilia Cheung). In his way is the Duke Wuhuan (Nicholas Tse) who is determined to win the heart of Qingcheng and destroy Guangming in the process. After a case of mistaken identity begins to take the characters into places their hearts weren't expecting, the story shifts to one of revenge, redemption and heartbreak.

I really enjoyed this movie, as it was a departure, both story wise and visually, from the average movie released these days. It almost had a Star Wars like feel to it, with different tribes and people from all over the world having different powers and abilities. This lent to the fantasy feel and imbued the film with a great sense of wonder. The multi-national cast (Sanada is Japanese, Jang is Korean and the majority of rest of the cast is Chinese) does a great job as does the director. As critics have contended, the special effects are a little clunky, but the parts they portray are good enough in my opinion to make you forget about the visuals and focus on the excitement, especially in the scene with the rampaging bulls. Nicolas Tse also deserves mention for extending himself beyond the pretty-boy persona and adding a great portrayal to the screen. I look forward to more work by Chen Kaige and hope he continues to work in the fantasy drama arena.

Reviewer Score: 7

Reviewed by: dandan
Date: 03/23/2006
Summary: a chinese fairy tale...

the most expensive chinese (and maybe asian) film ever made; directed by chen kaige, with a pan-asian cast consisting of jang dong-kun, sanada hiroyuki, nicholas tse, cecilia cheung, lui ye and chen hong.

the film opens with a little girl, who makes a promise to the goddess manshen (chen hong); she can have everything she wants in life, but everyone she loves, will leave her. we are then transported twenty years; the little girl is a princess (cecilia cheung), her king is under seige by a young upstart of a general (nicholas tse). the king's favourite general guangming (sanada hiroyuki) and his slave (jang dong-kun) are on their way to rescue the king when they become lost in a forrest and cross paths with manshen. the goddess makes a wager with the general...

now, this film has been really slagged off; i guess that people just don't like fairy tales any more...

i'll stop short just of saying that i loved this, but i did really like it and enjoyed every minute. the lush and interesting world that the film is set in, combined with the stylised special effects create an atmosphere of fantasy. the story and characters are engaging and there's some truely stunning sequences.

if you're expecting another 'crouching tiger, hidden dragon', 'hero' or 'house of flying daggers', you'll be disappointed; chen kaige has taken a very different approach. 'the promise' is a lush, escapist fantasy and should be enjoyed as such.

great stuff...

Reviewed by: evirei
Date: 01/13/2006
Summary: The promise... isn't that promising.

The promise, everything started of under the cherry blossom tree.*How romantic*. I always love the cherry blossom tree. It portrays the tender yet full of romance feel, gentle yet aggressive to love feel. Everything under the cherry blossom tree is just so perfect.

The story started of when Qingchen, was searching for food right after some battle has taken place. Yeah, when she finally found some stuff to eat from a dead soldier, a little boy was soon tricking her and ties her to the tree. She begged the boy to give her back her food and let her down. The little boy agrees to let her go if she agrees to be his slave. Qingchen says she will only agree to the terms after the boy has set her free. The little boy was very angry when Qingchen was tricking him.

Qingchen then kept running until she was at the lake. Her food stock dropped in to the lake while she was hopping on the tree trunks on the lake. She stood there and cried, when suddenly a goddess appears right before her and gave her back her food. She also makes an interesting offer to Qingchen. Yes.. a very interesting offer. An offer where she will not live in poverty for the rest of her life, all men will adore her, be rich, eat and drink the luxury way.Yes.. but in return, she will have to give up her true love. She can never have true love. Even if she does, the guy who she falls in love with shall die immediately. Pretty cool if you ask me, if I’m her, well I guess I will also pick the same choice. Hahaha...true love? I guess that only exist in fairy tales.

Until this part I find the movie really entertaining and I thought it is not as bad as what being mentioned. But everything after this point is really disappointing and saddening. Even if it manages to make me laugh, I am not laughing with the movie but somehow rather, I am laughing at the movie.

The show then starts of with the 20 years after scene. Where there the great General Guanming is at battle. Yup, a great battle against the great barbarians. Yes, they were out numbered. 200,000 barbarians vs. 30,000 soldiers. The clever general soon pays a man a big amount of money to buy all his slaves. He wants to use the slaves as baits. While the barbarians were busy on attacking them, the soldiers shall sneak from behind and counter-attack them. Everything was going on fine until the barbarians released the bulls, Yes, furious bulls to kill whatever that is in front of them. I must admit the sight where all of General Guanming’s men on the top of all hills were breathtaking. It’s simply amazing. It gives me this feeling of seeing the Great Wall of China.

However I am quickly disappointed with the CG’s. Especially when Kunlun is crawling his ways towards safety. Yes.. no kidding. If you are sitting right next to me during the movie, I was laughing loudly while watching that scene. Guess what, I even manage to shake my head a few times and wonder if I was in the wrong cinema. I just can’t accept the fact that he’s actually crawling in the air. And the way he runs.. I can only think of two words to express it. Yes, two words is more than enough. “Forest Gump”. Ring a bell?

Kunlun soon became “da man” when he manages to attract the bulls back to the barbarians. Yes they suffer a great damage being knocked down by the vicious bulls and then followed by the attacks of from General Guanming. He soon became the general’s new run man (I know it sounds funny, but well it’s nothing compare to watching it on the screen).

The general was soon sent to head back to the palace when news were being spread that Nicholas and his army surrounded the palace to take away the king’s precious concubine, Qingchen. While on his way back, the general got lost and bumps into the goddess. There, he was told about his fate but the general refuse to believe it and makes a bet with the goddess. If he loses the bet, he will have to give the goddess his tears of true love (which when he does shed a tear, he will die).

When General Guanming finally found his way out of the forest, he was quickly ambushed by a hit man sent by Nicholas. Kunlun manage to save the general, however the general was hurt badly. Thus, Kunlun took over the general’s place to save the king.

The scene in the palace was simply amazing. Nicholas hahaha… he is stunning in this movie (well, if we minus of ½ the amount of feathers on his body). Qingchen soon stirs a big mess when she say she will let the soldiers see what is she wearing underneath her robe if they put their weapons down. The king then commanded Qingchen to strip in order to protect himself. The angry Qingchen then asked the man to pick up their weapons and point it to the king if they want to see her naked. That’s when Kunlun (pretending to be the general) came into the picture and killed the king.

Okay they ended up at this valley. Yup, being surrounded by Nicholas and his army. Despite him trying to save Qingchen, he agrees to jump from the valley in exchange of Qingchen’s safety.

What’s new? Qingchen was then caged in a big and beautiful cage while Kunlun manage to cheat death and went back to the general. The general was furious when he found out Kunlun has killed the king just like what the goddess has predicted.

General Guanming refuses to believe in fate and makes another bet with the goddess. He believes he can make Qingchen falls deep in love with him instead. General Guanming soon commands Kunlun to save Qingchen.

Oh my god! My brain almost malfunction when Kunlun manage to free Qingchen from the cage using a long rope. He then pulls the rope and Qingchen was flying in the air as if Kunlun is flying a kite. It’s just so fake and impossible. To make matters worst, Nicholas manage to cut the rope and Qingchen was falling. Kunlun manages to save Qingchen. However, they ramp into a small window. When I say small, I mean “small”. And guess what.. both of them manages to ramp in without breaking the walls or whatsoever.

Matters get more complicated when Qingchen thought that General Guanming is the one who loves her and willing to die for her instead of Kunlun. Qingchen falls for Guanming almost instantly. Kunlun on the other side was blur. He was then saved by Nicholas’s hit man, which turns out to come from the same race. The descended of the Snow People. It is said that the Snow People have the ability to run very fast. So fast that they can run forward and backwards to the past and future.

The scene starts to pick up when Kunlun discover that Nicholas wipes out their entire race and killed his family members. And to even spice up the scene, Guanming was being trapped by Nicholas. Yes, a pretty stupid way to trick that guy. Yeah I’m not gonna leak out how he was trapped. But hey, I could tell it was a trap beforehand. Sigh! this is bad.

Oh this is getting way too long, ermm fast forward. Kunlun tries to save the general and free Qingchen. Oh ya did I forget to mention? Qingchen was captured not long after Nicholas trapped Guangming. The fight between Nic’s hit man and Nicholas himself was superb. I just love the settings when the fight in a room between the crow blinds. I thought that scene was the best in the show. Yes, something I must give credit upon after lots of my brain cells melting and dying despite watching this movie.

The ending of the show is somehow ridiculous and pretty standard. I was disappointed though. I mean, well maybe I expected too much from this show. I don’t know. It just doesn’t manage to convince me this is the most expensive movie China movie to date.

I feel they could do better on the CG’s. I think they should spend more time on the script. It was bad. Everyone I know thinks it’s confusing (including myself. Knowing I will always argue with people and discuss the movie plots with others). Seriously, the storyline was bad.. seriously bad. Even having good actors in the movie can’t help to cover the severe problem in the storyline.

Reviewer Score: 3