On its surface, The Promise seems to have a good pedigree backing it up. You’ve got the guy who directed Farewell, My Concubine and the cinematographer of Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon, combining forces for a Chinese film that is epic in scope, similar to the Zhang Yimou films Hero and House of Flying Daggers.
The problem with The Promise is that the story rambles a bit, and the characters are ones that you don’t care about. The stunts aren’t even breathtaking either, as the visual effects are apparently done with wires and green screens, and can be made out so obviously, they lack the magic and wonder of the Yimou films, or even other films like Shaolin Soccer and Kung Fu Hustle.
As far as I gathered the story, it involves a princess (played by Cecilia Cheung) who makes a pledge when she’s a child, but it involves some consequences. Meanwhile, a slave named Kunlun escapes the wrath of a General, but a figure named Wuhuan is a little ominous over the whole thing. At least that’s what I gathered from it, as the story was a little confusing, bordering on pretentious, and didn’t evolve itself, stopping for some more stunts that look fairly silly. All in all, this was a disappointment to say the least.
The Dolby Digital 5.1 soundtrack (Mandarin, because I like reading subtitles when it’s a foreign film, and piss off the English dubbed track) is a solid effort throughout, something I rather expected from a film like this, as similar films usually come with a pretty powerful 5.1 or even DTS track if you’re region-free. It’s not demo material, but it’s good enough.
The 1.85:1 anamorphic widescreen presentation of this film is rather shoddy if you ask me. There’s a lot of pixilation issues with the film when the camera moves from scene to scene, and the image itself is rather fuzzy throughout. It’s almost like someone videotaped a conversion process to a R2 or R3 disc and used that as a transfer of sorts.
The disc has actually got a respectable group of extras with this release. There are ten deleted and extended scenes that run about a half hour in length, and while they’re in non-anamorphic, they do include text cards with introductions for each of them, which is a nice touch. Along with a trailer, the other extra of note is a making of look at the production. In a piece that originally appeared on television, the 40 minute piece includes a lot of interviews with the cast and crew, and is subtitled for your viewing pleasure. The piece itself was pretty substantial and thoughtful for the subtitle inclusion, as US studios would simply have excised both from a Region 1 release.
The Promise is interesting in intent, but deeply flawed in execution, with serious deficiencies of charismatic figures or stunts designed to leave you breathless. The fact that Ang Lee did a lot better with English-speaking material may say something about Lee, but as a whole, The Promise fails to live up to any.