Director: Chen Kaige
Cast: Jang Dong Kun, Hiroyuki Sanada, Cecilia Cheung, Nicholas Tse, Liu Ye, Chen Hong
This film has just clinched a spot in the Golden Globe Best Foreign Films nomination.
It is also Chinas submission to Oscar 2006.
The latest news is its invitation to Berlin Film Festival 2006!
The synopsis (in English)
The official website (in Chinese)
My thoughts ...
Although opinions are pretty divided and controversies abound, it has broken all time box office hit in China. Audience either applauded it or criticized it But this is not uncommon
e.g., CROUCHING TIGER AND HIDDEN DRAGON people who like it love its cinematography, its soundtrack, its pacing, and its subtlety BUT people who dislike it thought the spoken Mandarin is awful and its plot is not complex enough
e.g., HERO people who like it love its luscious use of color, its art direction, symbolism, depth and thought provoking message; but people who dislike it complain that the plot is weak, the fighting actions are few, and the narrative style copies Rashomon
e.g., HOUSE OF FLYING DAGGERS people who like it again love the brilliant colors and art direction, and credit it for having numerous plot twist; but people who dislike it complain that the plot and ending has much to be desired
Well well well THE PROMISE will likely elicit divisive opinions and reviews
Why? I will elaborate further
(1) What everyone will likely agree on
(i) Definitely the visuals wow Anyway, the various trailers and posters have given you some idea with regards to the excellence of art direction and cinematography I particularly like the beginning two scenes and some of the transition scenes
i.e., when they were young the conversation between Qing Cheng and Man Shen
i.e., when Man Shen informs Guang Ming of his destiny
Contributing further to the visuals are the pretty costumes and set designs again, the use of vibrant colors is at work! Also, the soundtrack is great in providing the excitement to propel story forward
(ii) Regarding portrayal/casting
sorry to his fans, but many would agree on a better portrayal by Nicholas Tse (which was originally cast for Leslie Cheung) somehow, he just seems weird
also sorry to his fans, but the king on top of the roof acts/speaks weird
(2) Now, what is likely divisive
(i) people who dislike the film will simply dismiss it as a simple plot told in a convoluted way (i.e., a triangular love affair among one woman and two men) BUT, people who like the film will inform you that it is more than a film about triangular love instead, it hints at larger issues of life and humanity such as destiny versus change, power versus helplessness, freedom versus entrapment, truth versus lie, promise versus betrayal, love versus lust, etc there are many different relationships (of master and slave, of romance, of friendship, and of family and kinsmen )
(ii) people who dislike the film will inform that it lacks characterization and is too plot driven while people who like the film will inform that the various characters are more symbolic than real in fact, all the Chinese names given to the 5 main characters are rather meaningful
e.g., Guang Ming mean Bright and Shiny (i.e., it hints at an idiom that describes people who are truthful with nothing to hide)
e.g., Qing Cheng means Collapsing a City (i.e., based on a well known history and idiom about how beauty can collapse a nation)
e.g., Wu Huan means No Happiness
e.g., Man Shen means Fulfilling God
e.g., Gui Lang means Devils Wolf
Hence, one should look beyond the characters and appreciate the various themes, messages and thought provoking lines
e.g., Gui Lang telling Kun Lun What you are doing is not running, but fleeing only when there is desire/quest, will you learn what is pursuit
(iii) people who dislike it will laugh at many of the incredible/impossible scenes (such as running faster than the raging bulls, or flying, or the martial arts power of some of the characters) BUT people who like it will retort, hey, it is a fantasy film, and it occurs in a period long ago when human and god co-exist, so let your imagination run wild it is NOT a historically based film if you have no problem with Greek mythology or Harry Potter flying, you should not complain about this ...
(iv) people who dislike it will complain about the Mandarin but people who like it will appreciate the fact that it is not dubbed and the Korean actor and Japanese actor made an effort to speak their own lines in Mandarin
(v) finally, should the ending be what it is now?
* no spoilers *
People are always divided as to whether an ending to a film should end in a positive or negative note would people prefer it better with a sad ending because it wrenches ones heart or should it be a happy ending because we should always be positive
Do not be bothered by the diverse opinions you may have read on the internet or papers recall the movie HERO? some give it such rave reviews while others simply dismiss it so, do yourself a favor -- go watch the film and judge for yourself and maybe you could try understand why Golden Globe gives it a nod (at least in nomination) despite other strong contenders
(i) After watching the film, I am even more defensive of the original title that it should be THE PROMISE, which better captures the essence of the film as opposed to MASTER OF THE CRIMSON ARMOR which only captures a subplot of the film I like the Chinese title Wu Ji better, but it is really tough to translate
(ii) The distributor has not done a good job in marketing Many people hope that the history of poor marketing in HERO will not repeat itself