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GreenCine Movie Talk
From Albania to Zaire, there's a whole world out there.

Supersonic Warriors, Punctured
Topic by: JGereben
Posted: April 20, 2006 - 4:40 PM PDT
Last Reply: April 20, 2006 - 4:40 PM PDT

author topic: Supersonic Warriors, Punctured
post #1  on April 20, 2006 - 4:40 PM PDT  
Who knew? That feathered simpleton, Jonathan Livingston Seagull, lives again... in the latest work of a Chinese master of the cinema.

In Chen Kaige's "The Promise," feathers are all over the place, one hero is told to learn running faster than time, the heroine is advised to find her heart's desire, and everyone is flying hither and thither, quite without the basic equipment of a seagull, the gallinaceous bird with overt symbolism. It's both funny and sad, although the director was trying for something else, probably enchantment.

Consider the context: Two variations on the theme of China's unification 2,200 years ago by Yingzheng (or Qin Shi Huang, or Ch'in Shih-huang, or as you will) stand as milestones of contemporary Chinese cinema. They are Zhang Yimou's 2002 "Hero" and Kaige's 1999 "The Emperor and the Assassin."

Of course, Zhang and Kaige directed many other films, Zhang with an astonishing record of masterpieces (, no matter what the subject or scale, but Kaige's record is not so consistent. His 1993 "Farewell My Concubine" was memorable, but I, for one, found the 2003 "Together" "a glossy, phony, tangled film that simply doesn't work."

While American audiences are awaiting Zhang's new works, "Riding Alone" and "The City of Golden Armor," Kaige's 2005 "Wu ji" ("Mo gik," in Cantonese) is arriving in the US as "The Promise." It's a film not easy to describe, difficult to dislike, and impossible proclaim.

"The Promise" - at 300 million Yuan, the most expensive film made in China - is a martial-art fantasy story, with warriors flying high (or outrunning horses, bulls and time itself) against richly decorated backdrops. As in Zhang's "House of Flying Daggers," there is a triangle here also, consisting of a slave with supernatural powers (Dong-Kun Jang), a great general (Hiroyuki Sanada), and - of course - a beauteous princess (Cecilia Cheung, the glorious young star of "Failan," looking blandly pretty here, utterly defeated by Kaige's inane script).

Careening from a fairy tale to wu shu sword fights to vast (but primitive) special effects, applying "Star Wars," "Lord of the Rings," and even "Men in Black" digital scenery to a love-and-morality parable, "The Promise" doesn't get any of it right, disbelief is not suspended, enchantment not captivated.

And yet, this is not a stupid or disagreeable film; Kaige is trying so hard to be poetic, larger than life, deeper than the deep blue sea, and anything you can think of. The problem is that it lacks the magic in magic realism, the true illusion in fantasy, the logic and reason that must be (unstated, invisible) evident at the base of such a work.
Janos Gereben

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