Saturday, December 17, 2005

The Promise

The trailers, the posters, the casting, all looked promising. Sadly, the storyline is one heck of a convulated one, and I hate to use the word, but absurd is what The Promise is.

This is a fantasy picture as promoted, and true enough, it is, so much that you have to leave your brains at the door. In trying to sound intelligent, the plot fumbles and ended up really unconvincing. It's all style and little substance. To associate this with martial arts films is to insult the genre, and one shouldn't even mention this film nor compare it to Ang Lee's Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon. It's time filmmakers wake up to the idea that CTHD is a one-off that cannot be replicated. Do not try to go one up by having characters fly faster, higher, harder. Or run so fast they can break the space-time continuum and time travel. Science fiction this is not.

Yet, you cannot fault the cinematography, which seemed beautiful, until a closer scrutiny makes it so obvious that it's CGI created. Think Storm Rider's special effects in the creation of its world, there is no improvement in the refinement of graphics in The Promise after so many years. Does this mean that only the West can come up with believable CGI worlds for audiences?

Plot loopholes are abound, and you can drive a horde of running bulls right through it. You also get the usual villain driven soliloquy at the finale explaining his grudge he unbelievably held for so long (and the lengths he goes to settle it), and some homosexual undertones in one of the minor characters too. Hip? Guess not. What fails in plot delivery is having drag on what is obvious to the audience (but not to a character) for too long. In fact, almost the entire length of the movie. It wearies the audience, and insults the audience's intelligence.

So what's this movie about? It's a love triangle of sorts, between a Princess (Cecilia Cheung), a General of the Crimson Army (Japan's Hiroyuki Sanada), and his slave Kunlun (Korea's Jang Dong Gun). Playing the chief villain is Nicholas Tse, whose pretty boy looks probably made his character less threatening. Destiny is the running theme of the movie, where each character is destined for certain goals and events, and one in which is set in stone. Cursed by a fairy when young, the Princess is not to find true love, until impossible conditions are met. And the General too is foretold the elements leading to his impending death. What started off plotwise, as promising, degenerated into a web of blah which I wince at by just recalling it.

Are there any saving graces in the movie? Yes, but they are few. Look out for the fights involving Nicholas Tse, where I thought his use of the fan as a lethal boomerang was a marvel to watch. Cecilia Cheung also lit up the screen, but not for her acting nor the character's development though. The editing of a love scene too was uncalled for to get a PG rating, so that more audiences could fill the theatres. I reckon the word of mouth for this film will unsettle that. Hiroyuki Sanada and Jang Dong Gun, I guess, tried their best with the flimsily weak storyline to deliver their lines in Mandarin. Better that way too, with the rubbish I hope they don't understand.

If there is any movie which failed to live up to its hype, this movie is it, miserably. I'm sad to say that this is easily one of the worst films of the year. One more thing, they should have subtitled the opening titles explaining the background of the movie too, if they want to target non-mandarin speaking audiences. Slip-shoddy, careless start to a Chen Kaige disappointment.

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