review by Neo
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Promise is a Promise...
Anticipation, expectation and attraction, the film has it, but fulfill the promise it promised to deliver. That is what most critics and audience seemed to come to conclusion with. The Promise is a strikingly beautiful painting that painted a princess in Cecilia Cheung, into a glowing and dazzling beauty. Its like a dream, a movie that played like a dream and as a result Neo went along with flow and embraced the beauty of a never-land. In other words, I was blown away, not only by the dream-like vision, but by the insanely beautiful - Cecilia Cheung. Yeah, I am still dreaming...
The movie goes like this: In Chen Kaige's period extravaganza, set in Imperial China, destiny reaches out and dictates the fortunes of an orphan girl, a noble boy, an accomplished soldier and a slave whose exceptional ability to outrun the wind transcends fate. The film begins as a little girl scavenges among the corpses splayed beside a battlefield, in search of scraps of food for her dying mother. A slightly older boy of the noble classes makes her a proposition. If she agrees to be his slave, he will give her a few morsels of food. The little girl accepts. It is the very first promise she has ever made. But she breaks it immediately: Having received the food, she flees. Little does she suspect that years later she will pay the price.
Chen Kaige is a director acclamation and defamation, which means that his films aren't exactly slow paced, prolonged, and ultimately visual. His emphasis on the colour - red is striking, discerning, uncomfortably, yet ultimately menacing and morally thought provoking. Red symbolise an ironic combination of power, corruption, envy, death, love and passion. It hurts the eye and the red seems artificial, but eventually there are layers of red beneath the outer surface of the colour.
However, some aspects of the dialogue seemed like direct copy from Zhang Yimou's Hero, perhaps it is an attempt at parody or whatever, but all I can say is that those lines are extremely corny and ultimately cheesy. Then again, one can not criticise Chen too much as the rest of the dialogue are well thought out, yet extremely romantic attuned. Memorable lines are numerous and words at it most beauty when the slave describes how the weather is unpredictable just like love - "you do not know when you will fall in love" and the tears of regret stream down the great general face.
Chen also questions the notion of whether being able to go back in time is actually a positive thing. However, being able to go back in time to witness the events once again are one thing and to change the course of history is another. No matter how comical - running back in time seem to be, Chen does not allow the past to change, perhaps alluding to the fact that what has happened has indeed happened. Things happen for a reason, no matter how good or bad it seem to be, in life there are few second chances, therefore if there is one, most people should be grasping on it rather than trying to change what has already happened.
Cecilia Cheung, put in a breathtakingly passionate and beautiful performance, while it didn't showcase her acting chops to any new uncovered grounds, but it did blown out her beauty into millions of screens worldwide. Her character is flawed as when she was young, she made a choice of riches rather than ironically true love. However, rather than regretting upon the choice, she seemingly attempts to embrace it and never gave up, even when all seemed hopeless.
No matter what criticism Nic Tse have faced, his performance is light-hearted in a good way. The way his character combines cheesy yet funny dialogue and weird costumes provides almost perfect comic timing. Tse's character is comically evil, with a constant pursue of evilness, but what lies behind is simply a small child who have lost "trust" within the world of lies. Chen uses Tse to question the "truth" - after all, what is the truth? Can you be trusted? Who can be trusted? Trust isn't exactly just a five letter word, but then again - who knows?
The Promise isn't just about love and romance, but like those fairytales, there is always a moral to it. Basically it all comes down to - a promise is a promise. Words can affect someone's life and the actions you take can even change someone's life forever. A promise in my honest opinion must only be made if you are willing to take up the responsibility of acting upon the promise. Perhaps those that know me or been reading my reviews - if I promise something, I will answer that promise.
The Promise is a promising movie with an ambitious plotline, that is too ambitious for its own sake. So in a way, it fails to meet its expectations, but in another way it brings in the sense of dream-like effect - forcing us to think about the consequences of our actions. Chen questions integral questions that bothers our dreams - Can we change the past? Can we go back in time to put the wrong things right? Perhaps there is a way to it, but in Chen's world - what has happened has indeed happened. After all everything happen for a reason, sometimes good, sometimes bad and perhaps Tse's slave was right: "when I say I never wronged or betrayed anyone, I now realise I was wrong as there is one person that U have betrayed all along - is myself." Life isn't perfect, but if you believe something can happen - nothing is impossible, Just like Neo right now - liking a movie that shouldn't be liked.
I rate it 8.5/10
on this movie on HK Neo Reviews Forum
Genre: Historical Epic
Director: Director: Chen Kaige
Cast: Hiroyuki Sanada, Cecilia Cheung Pak-Chi, Jang Dong-Kun, Nicholas Tse Ting-Fung, Liu Ye, Chen Hong
Reviewed by Andrew (Neo), January 2006