Reviewed by

Christopher Armstead

How does one go about describing ‘The Promise’?  Take this description of a movie for example:  A Cuban thug migrates to Miami and becomes a ruthless drug lord.  Or this one:  An Archeology Professor doubles as globe hopping treasure hunter.  Simple enough.  The Promise, however, not only defies description, it spits in its face daring you to figure out what exactly it’s about.  As far as I can tell ‘The Promise’ is the story of three people.  The wayward Slave Kunlun (Korean actor Dung-Kun Jang) His master, the great general Guangming (Japanese actor Hiroyuki Sanada) and the princess Qingchen (Chinese actress Cecilia Chueng).  Before she became a princess, Qingchen was a destitute child scrounging for food amongst the corpses of soldiers.  She is greeted by a rather pesky goddess (Hong Chen) who promises her great beauty and great wealth with stipulation that true love will forever elude her.   That is unless these three things happen:  Time flows backwards, the dead walk the earth, and snow falls in spring.  Since the kid hasn’t eaten in two years, it seems like a decent enough deal and she takes it.

Soon we meet the slave Kunlun who has the ability to run like the wind.  Circumstance leads him to the servitude of legendary General Guangming.  Guangming narrowly escapes an assassination attempt by the lethal Snow Wolf who also runs like the wind and has the ability to fly.  Snow Wolf spares Guangming after seeing Kunlun and informs him that they are both from the Land of Snow.  Next we are introduced to the ambitiously violent and effeminate Wuahuan (Nicholas Tse) who covets the princess for himself.  Why, we won’t find out until the end.

The story goes deeper and becomes move convoluted and confusing to the point where you just stop caring and simply sit back and watch the pretty colors flow by.  And pretty colors there are a plenty with lovely cinematography, beautiful scenery and colorful environments that flow through continuously.  Where Yimou Zhang’s ‘House of a Thousand Daggers’ and ‘Hero’ framed it’s stunning cinematography around historical Chinese events, Kaige Chen’s ‘The Promise’ occurs in a complete fantasy world not bound by the rules of reality or gravity.  ‘The Promise’ is also heavy laden with special effects that are, at best, a mixed bag.  The kung-fu wirework is very well done and the film would have been better served by having more of those kinds of scenes, but the green screen effects and the way the characters are integrated into the computer generated backgrounds is somewhat fake looking most of the time.

But despite the overly complex and confusing narrative and the borderline crappy special effects, ‘The Promise’ has a quirky charm and an energy to it that makes it difficult to completely disregard it.  It does manage to keep one entertained throughout it’s length, Hiroyuki Sanada is a great actor, Cecelia Cheung is easy to look at, and the fight choreography is top notch.  Though ‘The Promise’ falls well short of the epics we’ve seen coming out of China the last couple of years, It’s still has it’s charms and may be worth your time if you choose to see it.

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