The Promise Chen Kaige

The name Chen Kaige used to mean something. He was the one who essentially broke Chinese film in the West with his Yellow Earth, but after Kaige and compatriot Zhang Yimou lost their grips on the zeitgeist, they turned their backs on art and turned their attentions to undemanding pop. But even past failures fail to prepare the viewer for the pathetic shambles that is The Promise, a screaming, incoherent mess that marks a low point in the director’s career. There is a plot, I think, about an impoverished girl to whom a goddess grants riches on the condition that she loses every man she loves. She grows up to be Princess Quincheng (Cecilia Chung), who’s romanced by General Guanming (Hiroyuki Sanada) but really loved by his super-fast slave Kunlun (Jang Dong-Gun). It gets rather fuzzy after that: something about the murder of a king, some Duke of the North (Nicholas Tse), who’s also got the hots for the princess, and a whole lot of appallingly shoddy CGI that would embarrass an episode of Reboot. There are myriad pretty colours, but as half the backgrounds are slapped-together digitalia it’s impossible to appreciate the colour schemes, and the editing is so relentlessly fast it’s like being beaten over the head by a thrash metal drummer. Chen’s clearly a defeated man and he acts like he just wants it to be over. There isn’t an ounce of caring or personal investment in the whole thing. One can imagine Chen directing with his back turned to the performers, eating a Danish and reading Variety. The only real promises in this movie are the early one being squandered by the director and the one from me assuring you that the film is one of the year’s worst. Extras include an amorphous "making of” doc and seven deleted scenes (Warner)