The Promise

Rated 3.0

Writer-director Chen Kaige (Farewell My Concubine) gets on the allegory-of-flying-swordspeople bandwagon—er, that is, he assays the hallowed genre of wuxia (a Mandarin compound meaning, literally, “martial arts chivalry”), which has percolated in Chinese storytelling culture for centuries and arguably reached its zenith in cinema. To the great credit of his multinational cast, Chen’s epic of valor, honor and doomed love brings the satisfactions to be expected from moral broad strokes. Less satisfying are the computery, too-pretty compositions and self-conscious jags of occasionally laughable special effects. If the idea was to take our breath away, the result might well be a loud collective sigh. This movie was China’s official foreign-language Academy Award contender last year, and it’s hard not to wonder if its primary aesthetic goal actually was to be the perfect realization of mega-budget Asia-fetish Oscar bait. Its misapplication notwithstanding, there’s some major talent here.