WE SHOULD SAIL ON FOREVER, A PROMISE
I finally got to see The Promise today. I really like Chen Kaige's work, and I was curious to see how his skills adapted to the wuxia genre. In the past, other directors have taken on this genre, despite being known for more personal work, most notably Wong Kar-Wai, Zhang Yimou, and Ang Lee, and generally, they have had good success. The Kaige films I have known have been huge historical epics like Farewell My Concubine and quiet modern stories like Together.
Though I liked The Promise overall, Kaige may have went for it a little too intensenly. The style is audacious and he is committed to it, but the story suffers sometimes from plot convolutions. To me, it played out like a superhero comic book, and I was only partially joking afterward when I compared it to Chris Claremont's work on X-Men. There are plot turns around every corner, and the build-up of action and romance causes characters to flip their motivations constantly. This made it a little hard to get into at first, but once I was along for the ride, it became a lot of fun. I was into the rush of it, to its relentless foward momentum. (Given that the U.S. cut is over 20 minutes shorter than the Chinese cut, I have to wonder if some of the story convolutions are a fault of a Hollywood butchering. A short--and albeit half-hearted--scan of the internet reveals not very much, though apparently I may be alone in liking it. The group I was with was mixed.)
What sets The Promise apart from many the films by the big directors referenced above is it is unabashadely set in the world of myth and fairy tale. There are goddesses, magic cloaks, even time travel. It's gorgeous colors and costumes actually reminded me some of Jacques Demy's work, particularly Donkey Skin. There are a lot of computer effects in the film, but Kaige doesn't always integrate them into the reality of his human actors, presumably to act as a constant reminder that this isn't real, that it's something larger. (This is a theory, they could just be bad effects.) It doesn't always work, sometimes the camerawork can be rather jittery.
Some of the fight sequences are amazing. The opening battle where we meet Kunlun in the midst of stampede is both exciting and hilarious, and the showdown between Wuhuan and Snow Wolf in a room with spinning partitions had a couple of startling moments. The best part for me, though, was the doomed romance, the deceptions and the curses that separated our characters from their hearts. Was it a tragic ending or did they all somehow live happily after? It's up to the individual to decide. I like to think time flowed backward, snow fell in the spring, and the dead rose--but I'm like that. I thought that was what the movie was really about, and perhaps audiences who are more disappointed are having a problem because they were sold on a kung-fu film that isn't there. This is a story of a princess and the choices she makes, and how it affects the world around her, how it breaks hearts, and in the end, how insurmountable the task of bringing two people together can seem--not kicks and punches and the like.
All in all, The Promise is a flawed film, but I thought it had enough going for it, even if just in the eye candy department, that I will likely visit it again.
Current Soundtrack: 808 State, EX:EL
Current Mood: bitchy