The Promise

Film
Let's go chopping Sanada, right, heads off problems with vassal Jang.
Let’s go chopping Sanada, right, heads off problems with vassal Jang.

Time Out says

The Promise is reportedly China’s most expensive film to date. If so, someone was seriously overcharging. Martial-arts eye porn crafted to a ridonkulous degree of computerized fakeitude, this one makes Hero look like a Bergman film. Only the most charitable moviegoers—Asiaphiliac videogameboys, essentially—will be able to forgive a spectacle so laughably, unintentionally plastic. Bodies just don’t move like this.

Try to imagine your own version of a “solemn” cello score (the clich-ridden music is by Germany’s Klaus Badelt) for the following plot synopsis. In a fantasy era of imperial dynasty, a slave (Jang) earns the respect of a fearsome general (Sanada) by—get this—outrunning a stampede of wild bulls on all fours, while carrying the wounded warlord on his back. Meanwhile, a princess (Cheung) falls in love with the slave, who boldly kills the king while hiding behind the general’s faceplate.

Completely bereft of persuasive emotion, the film sets its tired romantic three-way into play—and it’s here that one is shocked to remember that Chen Kaige is a Palme d’Or--winning director (1993’s Farewell My Concubine). What happened to these formerly audacious Fifth Generation filmmakers like Chen and Zhang Yimou (House of Flying Daggers)? Perhaps it’s savvy of them to be getting in on the commercial pot stirred by Ang Lee, but their action films feel like the worst betrayal of a once-vaunted humanity and political daring. The Promise is, by far, the most egregious example of this; its title will ring ironic even to noncinephiles. (Opens Fri; click here for venues.)—Joshua Rothkopf

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