On the strength of an 11-minute trailer that earned a standing ovation at Cannes, as well as the chaotic story of its distribution here -- rights were snatched up by The Weinstein Company, only to be dropped after a re-edit and re-naming; Warner Independent Pictures ended up with the film -- Chen Kaige's The Promise had developed considerable buzz in the US. Set to open here early next month, it’s now one of the handful of jarringly commercial, big-budget films showing at the Tribeca Film Festival. Unfortunately, however, the movie fails to live up to either its buzz or the visual potential hinted at in that Cannes trailer.
The Promise is set in a fantastic land, in which gods and men live side-by-side, and giant, color-coded armies battle for dominance. The film is dominated by set-piece combat scenes, none of which adhere to normal rules of physics; each features reams and reams of billowing fabric, movements of impossible grace, and long chases across whatever lovely obstacles present themselves, from trees and rooftops to human-sized birdcages and craggy landscapes. The plot, as you might expect, is of little consequence, serving primarily as an excuse for those battles and other CGI-enhanced scenes of dramatic beauty. Such as it is, however, the plot revolves are Quingcheng (Cecilia Cheung), a woman who, as a young girl, made an unfortunate promise to a goddess, accepting endless devotion and wealth in exchange for the inability to find and keep a true love. Inevitably, she falls in love with a man who kills for her, but because of circumstances and the man’s hidden face, she believes her rescuer to be the fabled Master of the Crimson Armor (Hiroyuki Sanada), when in fact it is his slave (Jang Dong-Kun). Needless to say, great dramatic sacrifices are made, loves are lost, and lives are changed, all in gorgeous ways.