STUDIO: Warner Home Video
MSRP: $27.98
RUNNING TIME: 102 Minutes
Available Subtitles: English, Spanish, French
Available Audio Tracks: Mandarin (Dolby Digital 5.1), English (Dolby Digital 5.1)
"The Making of The Promise"
Additional scenes
Theatrical trailer


“It’s like Hero with a fairy tale bent and less successful action sequences.”


Dong-Kun Jang (Tae Guk Gi: The Brotherhood of War), Hiroyuki Sanada (Ringu, The Last Samurai), Cecilia Cheung (Shaolin Soccer – Unforgettable as ‘Team Moustache Player 1’), Nicholas Tse (New Police Story)


If you’re a regular filmgoer, there is little chance you’d have any clue who Chen Kaige is. For those loyal CHUDdites, however, you’d probably know Kaige from his early work with Zhang Yimou and the more distinguished cinephiles amongst us from Farewell My Concubine. And if you’re on the internet, you probably know Kaige for Heather Graham’s breasts in Killing Me Softly. Here Kaige is working in epic mode (following Yimou’s suit it would seem), as he tells a story of a girl named Qingchang who sold the opportunity for true love in exchange for boundless wealth and beauty, and the men who desperately want to have her; the proud General Guangming from the King’s army, the cruel and conniving Wuhuan, and the obedient slave Kunlun whose people were blessed with unnatural speed.

Queer Eye For The Seventh Seal Guy


This is a hard movie to review. It’s a visually beautiful piece of spectacle filmmaking (even that comes with a caveat though, more on that later) that has well-written character arcs and some interesting visceral battle scenes on the one hand. On the other, it completely failed to emotionally resonate with me. So the choice boils down to whether or not a film can be a ‘sumptuous visual feast’ (/end Peter Travers quote-whoring) while at the same time be vacuous and still be worth watching.

Also of note: The Arcade Fire literalists and their rash of mall-related incidents.
The literalist faction of Grateful Dead fans took the concerts very seriously.

Visually, Kaige strikes up some fantastically beautiful imagery. Hell, one can see that just by perusing the screencaps throughout this review. However, even though this was the largest budget for a Chinese movie of all time (in the neighborhood of thirty-five million dollars) the CG work seriously detracts from the other beautiful visuals of the movie, and the tone it strikes at some points seems to run counter to the epic scope of the film. An early sequence in the film felt more like a deleted sequence from Kung Fu Hustle than a frenetic and epic action sequence, and his constant change of shutter speeds throughout disjoints what should in this film’s case be a more flowing and elegant movement to capture the poetry of the colors and visuals on screen. However, this film still is absolutely gorgeous in most parts even with those complaints being firmly lodged.

The acting is acceptably broad for a movie of this nature, but none of the actors are standouts in their roles. Storyline-wise, it’s all a bit perfunctory feeling but there are still some successful arcs for certain characters, such as General Guangming and the assassin Snow Wolf that manage to be satisfying. The movie’s power lies more or less in the timeless quality of its story and visual decadence anyway, so the acting seemingly took a back seat.

If you reference a film nobody else watched in a theater, does the audience make a sound?
Chen Kaige: fan of discipline.

I think the place the film loses me most is in its thematic content, and this is spoiler-esque territory, so read on at your own risk. The message seems to be about the decisions one makes and dealing with the ramifications of them, more specifically that it’s never too late to change your destiny (this is my interpretation of Quingcheng being taken back in time to answer the question posed to her at the beginning again). However, by having this enchantress character float in and out of the narrative and lord over all of the characters, knowing specifically what their destinies hold, and telling them as much sort of sucks the energy out of that discovery as you’re fully aware of what’s going to happen to all of the men by the film’s end.

It’s this quality to the film that leaves one with the impression that they are watching little more than puzzle pieces being shifted along a giant board, locking in place for the final result instead of being actualized fully-formed characters. And because of this, I feel an emotional disconnect from the picture. However, I do feel the compulsion to go back to it again, so I cannot dismiss this picture offhand. It’s recommended for fans of the filmmaker, but for anyone else I can’t in good conscience do so because of my hesitancy as described above, but if this review has picqued your interest in any way, please check it out and decide for yourself.


A little known predecessor to shooting man out of a cannon,
the manapult was deployed in several areas across the Far East.


First, the cover. For a movie brimming with beautiful imagery, the best they could come up with is man-on-horse whilst Hurricane Ghostlove rages in the background. I suppose it hints at the story and the bright and expressive color palatte contained within, but it could be so much more. The 5.1 audio and the transfer are both solid, which are the main draws for a film whose power lies in its cinematic quality. In terms of extras, there’s the theatrical trailer which tries to make this movie all palpable-like for an audience who presumably yells “Speak English!” at the screen whenever subtitles appear.


Pen-Woo Jang, World’s fanciest mime.

Also included are a gaggle of deleted scenes, most of which seemingly fall out of the picture due to a domino effect of an earlier scene being trimmed. The real gem of the features (and my favorite thing on the disc to be honest) was The Making of The Promise, which is nothing more than a stripped down forty-five minute documentary about the shooting of the film. It’s clearly not a made-for-US audience doc as only the spoken word is translated for us not the numerous graphics with Chinese characters spread throughout the documentary. What makes it so enjoyable for me is that is gives a rather uncompromising (in relation to the cookie cutter “it was so great to work with _____” featurettes shoehorned onto most new releases these days, although one such moment is forced upon an actor in question form) look at Kaige’s directing process, showing that he is one meticulous motherfucker. Each line delivery is gone over by him, giving motivation to each actor (“This first line is like a secret and then the next is like when you poop in the morning.”) while shooting take after take of stunts.

This is a dramatic action sequence.

Another member added to The Nation’s Gored.

It also helps to show that even some of the more computer-enhanced sequences involved real locations and the opening war sequence involving bulls actually involved real bulls (which you would never know from the look of the sequence in the film). Also, it has the added benefit of showing you exactly why this isn’t a PETA-sponsored film, as we see a bull brutally gunned down by a soldier on set who were ‘helping’ the bulls along as they stampeded past the cameras. Reminds one of the good old days, when a filmmaker could annihilate as many animals as he saw fit to serve his film’s purpose. And to be fair to Kaige, he did then use the slaughtered bull to feed the extras:

It's the circle of life.

6.0 out of 10