The Promise

  • 2006
  • Movie
  • PG-13
  • Historical, Martial Arts

With a budget of 300,000,000 yuan (which translates to about US$35 million), Kaige Chen's swooning wu xia epic is the most expensive movie ever made in China. That money certainly didn't go to waste: Chen's tale of mythic chivalry is filled with beautifully designed sets, lovingly detailed costumes and elaborate martial-arts sequences. Unfortunately, it...read more

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Reviewed by Ethan Alter
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With a budget of 300,000,000 yuan (which translates to about US$35 million), Kaige Chen's swooning wu xia epic is the most expensive movie ever made in China. That money certainly didn't go to waste: Chen's tale of mythic chivalry is filled with beautifully designed sets, lovingly detailed costumes and elaborate martial-arts sequences. Unfortunately, it also sports amateurish digital effects that often mar the beauty of this world instead of enhancing it. As a young girl, the lovely Qingcheng (Cecilia Cheung) encountered a goddess (Hong Chen) who presented her with the option of leaving her poverty-stricken existence behind for a life of luxury. Naturally, this proposition came with a catch: Any man she chooses to love, she’ll also be destined to lose. Qingcheng accepts the goddess' offer without any hesitation, and 20 years later she's living happily as a princess in the Imperial City. Her beauty is of such renown that the villainous Duke of the North (Nicholas Tse) marches on the city to claim her for his own. The king (Qian Cheng) is particularly vulnerable at the moment, as his stalwart defender, General Guangming (Hiroyuki Sanada), aka the Master of the Crimson Armor, is away at the front. It's here that Guangming meets Kunlun (Dong-Kun Jang), a lowly slave who turns out to possess great speed and skill in combat. When news of the duke's siege reaches the general, he heads back to the Imperial City with Kunlun riding along as his personal assistant. Along the way, they are waylaid by a deadly assassin (Ye Liu), who succeeds in critically injuring Guangming. At his master's insistence, Kunlun reluctantly dons the Crimson Armor and rides to the rescue. Through a case of mistaken identity, he winds up killing the king and escaping with Qingcheng, only to have her fall back into the duke's hands. Meanwhile, a recovered Guangming catches up with his servant and reclaims his armor just in time to rescue the princess once again. Believing him to be the same man that saved her before, Qingcheng pledges her heart to the general, while the noble Kunlun suffers in silence until the truth is inevitably revealed. Although the plot is packed with incident, the storytelling is often choppy and confused, no doubt because the studio edited 20 minutes out of the original cut. But then wu xia films aren't exactly known for following established narrative conventions anyway. Unapologetically melodramatic, they encourage viewers to abandon logic for the fantastic. At its best, Chen's lavishly mounted production provides the kind of lush romantic fantasy that Hollywood can't seem to make anymore without a healthy dose of irony, but those expecting another HERO or HOUSE OF FLYING DAGGERS may find themselves disappointed. Chen doesn't slide into the genre as smoothly as his contemporary Yimou Zhang does in those two films. The mixture of action, drama and romance isn’t as potent, and Chen's reliance on subpar special effects hurts the movie. Wu xia fans will still find things to like, but the uninitiated will probably find this slow going.

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  • Released: 2006
  • Rating: PG-13
  • Review: With a budget of 300,000,000 yuan (which translates to about US$35 million), Kaige Chen's swooning wu xia epic is the most expensive movie ever made in China. That money certainly didn't go to waste: Chen's tale of mythic chivalry is filled with beautifull… (more)

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