Given that Chen Kaige’s The Promise was cut by over 20 minutes, shelved for months, and summarily jettisoned by the Weinstein Co. (carrying on Miramax’s tradition of egregiously botched releases of major Asian imports), one is predisposed to consider it a better movie than it actually is. The most expensive movie ever made in China (the second of Chen’s films to claim that title), it’s a CGI period epic a la recent Zhang Yimou, ripe with destiny, prophecy, emperors and assassins, a general and slave in love with the same woman — perfect fodder for claims of mutilated auteurist majesty. Yet, even adjusting for butchery (and the removal of connective tissue is smartingly apparent), The Promise feels choppy. Chen doesn’t linger in scenes, instead rushing onwards to ever more pneumatic extravagances. It’s as if he knew that, sumptuous as his Final Fantasy-style enhancements are, there’s no sense of wonder when every effect is accomplished with the click of a mouse. The silver lining is the pan-Asian cast (particularly Hiroyuki Sanada, as an empty suit of armor with a Palm Beach tan and pencil mustache) slyly nudging their archetypal roles towards camp, and keeping Chen’s sugar-high palette agreeably fizzy.
"A few nights ago, I had a dream that my long-dead childhood pet—an overweight Springer Spaniel named Peppermint Patty—ate my entire novel, page by page, wagging her tail the entire time. When she was finished, she woofed once, licked my face, and curled up next to me on the sofa. She appeared deeply satisfied."