The Promise (2005)

Posted in Reviews by - June 21, 2020
The Promise (2005)

An action fantasy from Palme d’Or winner Chen Kaige (Farewell My Concubine) who follows auteur director Zhang Yimou’s transition from melodrama to ‘martial arthouse’ with a story based on a Tang dynasty wuxia novel. Like Hero, this film was picked up for international distribution by The Weinstein Company, given a new title (Master of the Crimson Armor), and reduced by around 25 minutes, only for it to be shelved and released theatrically a year later by a different studio, Warner Independent Pictures. Those expecting Hero may be distracted by the dreamy fantasy elements, shonky visual effects, wacky action scenes and characters which feel nothing more than ornamental. For example, take orphan girl Qingcheng (Cecilia Cheung), who is visited by a water spirit as a child and told she can have all the riches in the world in return for never knowing true love. She takes the deal, only to then be usurped in the story by the three male leads, and used purely as a motivational device for the boys to fight over. The film, and the wuxia story it is based on, instead centres on the slave of a famous general (Hiroyuki Sanada), known for his extraordinary speed and fighting power, who is summoned to rescue the general’s true love from the arms of a warlord. The cartoonish elements are quite surprising for a Chen Kaige movie, and undermine the serious attempts at melodrama. There’s a sequence in which the slave, Kunlun (Jang Dong-gun), outruns a stampede of charging bulls, which ends up looking like a Looney Tunes routine; plus the glorious display of campy costumes takes Hero‘s military fetish to flamboyant new heights. If you’re willing to go with it, however, there is fun to be had; particularly in the haunted vision of Snow Wolf (Liu Ye), a fighter who can ‘run faster than time’, and the handsome Nicholas Tse puts on a smart display of fan fu. Its perhaps one of the maddest films to ever be recognised with a Best Foreign Language Film nomination at the Golden Globes.

AKA: Master of the Crimson Armor.

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