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DVD Review: The Promise

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When I first saw this film on the big screen I felt extremely let down by the outcome. Following an opening that seemed to promise a beautiful fairy tale-type film, it changed directions and instead became this fantasy action film that had no focus. The end result was a film that had some terribly poor effects and a plot so convoluted that I wasn't quite sure exactly what happened. I am happy to say that upon viewing the DVD, I was not nearly as disappointed. I am not saying that I have turned 180 degrees and am now a big fan, but I was able to enjoy it more.

I am still not sure that I can explain, adequately, what happened in The Promise. The problem is, I am not quite sure exactly what happened. I don't need it spoonfed to me, but there is just something that didn't really click here. Good guys are bad buys, bad guys are good guys, love isn't love, people are not who they seem to be, it is just too much. I get the basics of the story, but there is so much that isn't what it appears to be that the whole thing loses its meaning.

While the story is still a disappointment to me, I find the visuals to be dazzling. The effects are still a little lackluster — well, hokey — particularly during the running of the slaves scene, where we first meet the sweet, dim-witted hero, Kunlun (Dong-kun Jang). The costume design and strong use of colors is quite dazzling.

I do not know what happened to my mindset going into the movie between my theatrical viewing and this time on DVD, but something did. My approach was more akin to viewing the average summer blockbuster, and I reeled in my expectations, in light of my prior viewing. This happening made the whole experience much more enjoyable.

Director Chen Kaige did create an intiguing fantasy realm for the characters to inhabit. For as bad as the effects were, there were many shots that were stunning to see on the big screen. Falling flower petals, a battle around a tree, the lead actress in a feather suit and imprisoned in a golden birdcage, some beautiful scenery. It truly did not seem like anywhere on earth. Also, Cecelia Cheung, as Qingcheng, is absolutely stunning – she has phenomenal grace and presence on the screen. It is a shame she did not have more screentime.

Audio/Video. The video is presented in anamorphic widescreen and looks very good. The colors are all bright and well defined, adding to the strong fantasy feel. The audio also sounds good. There is an English dub track that is mediocre at best; they used a translation that attempted to fit the mouth movements rather than a direct translation, which was a mistake.

Extras. There are a few deleted scenes and a decent making-of featurette to round out the disk. Nothing spectacular, but it does give a little insight into what it was like to make the film.

Bottomline. This is a gorgeous looking film, even if the story isn't all that it could have been. The seeds for a timeless fairy tale were there and I would have liked to see a film pay off on that potential. Instead, I will have to settle for a movie that looks great but is ultimately less filling.

Mildly Recommended.

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