Chen Keige's misbegotten The Promise is possibly the only Asian film that can make you feel sorry for producer Harvey Weinstein, who pre-brought the film before realizing that he'd made a big mistake on seeing the end result. It's hard not to think that all that bad karma from cutting Asian films to ribbons finally caught up with him with this one. I should have known what to expect when I saw exploitation specialist Etchie Stroh's name as one of the producers. It's not a total loss, but it is a helluva mess just on a technical level, boasting probably the worst CGI effects in a big budget film. Some of them look just one step up from animatics or late 80s arcade games, while the opening stampede plays like a Road-Runner cartoon crossed with an early Neolithic cave painting. But then the sound mixing is sometimes equally awkward, leaving you with the impression that the film was rushed into completion in the hopes of scoring some Oscar nominations that they didn't quite manage to finish any it. Of course, it is just possible that everyone concerned saw what a totally bonkers movie this is and decided to sneak home early from work each day.
It's not fair to describe it as Asia's Alexander, because although often horribly executed, there was a governing intelligence behind that. By contrast, this seems more of a cynical attempt to capture a slice of the international market Zhang Yimou and Ang Lee cornered with a fantasy epic cum fairytale. Unfortunately, despite a promising initial premise and mostly game performances, Kaige really isn't suited to this kind of material and seems to be throwing in elements simply because they worked in other people's hit movies. There are a few good moments - the wall of time flashback, the ending - but most of it is just so bizarrely wrong that you just go on watching to see what comes up next. I think rescuing the heroine from her giant gilded birdcage, wrapping her in feathers and then running with her flying like a kite on a string probably takes the what-the-heck? award, but the bull run comes a close second.
Momentum's DVD is the cut international version, losing some 18 minutes from the original running time.