The Promise (Wu ji) (2005)

If you create a user account, you can add your own review of this DVD

Released 3-Dec-2008

Cover Art

This review is sponsored by
BUY IT

Details At A Glance

General Extras
Category Action Interviews-Crew
Featurette-Behind The Scenes
Theatrical Trailer
Rating Rated M
Year Of Production 2005
Running Time 101:54 (Case: 98)
RSDL / Flipper RSDL (65:13) Cast & Crew
Start Up Menu
Region Coding 4 Directed By Kaige Chen
Studio
Distributor
Anchor Bay Entertainment Starring Dong-Kun Jang
Hiroyuki Sanada
Cecilia Cheung
Nicholas Tse
Ye Liu
Hong Chen
Cheng Qian
Case Amaray-Transparent
RPI ? Music Klaus Badelt


Video Audio
Pan & Scan/Full Frame Pan & Scan Mandarin Dolby Digital 5.1 (448Kb/s)
Mandarin Dolby Digital 2.0 (224Kb/s)
Widescreen Aspect Ratio None
16x9 Enhancement No
Video Format 576i (PAL)
Original Aspect Ratio 2.35:1 Miscellaneous
Jacket Pictures No
Subtitles English (Burned In) Smoking No
Annoying Product Placement No
Action In or After Credits No

NOTE: The Profanity Filter is ON. Turn it off here.

Plot Synopsis

I greatly enjoy Chinese historical fantasy epics of which there have been quite a few lately such as Hero, Crouching Tiger Hidden Dragon & Curse of the Golden Flower.I have also enjoyed films of a similar ilk from other Asian countries such as Bichunmoo from Korea. These films have a sensibility and style which cannot possibly come from the Hollywood system and that makes even the lesser ones very worthy of viewing time. This one comes with an excellent pedigree being directed by Chen Kaige, famous for Farewell My Concubine and photographed by the same DOP as Crouching Tiger, Peter Pau. It is also purported to be the biggest budget film ever from China at US$35 million. So, does this pedigree add up to the new Crouching Tiger? Well, no, but having said that it is a compelling and interesting failure even with the shameful transfer on this local release (but more on that later).

The story told here begins with a young girl, who is searching a battlefield of dead soldiers for food to carry to her dying mother. She comes across the dead body of a soldier clutching a small dumpling in his hand. Just as she takes it she gets trapped by a young boy in full battle outfit who demands that she must be his slave if she wishes to be released. She tricks him and runs off with the dumpling only to drop it into a lake as she crosses it. A goddess called Manshen appears and offers her untold riches if she will accept that any love she ever has will only be fleeting. She readily agrees as she is basically without hope.

We then flash forward and the young girl has grown into a beautiful woman, Qingcheng (Cecilia Cheung) who is the King's concubine, greatly revered for her beauty. Meanwhile, a great but somewhat unethical general, Guenguing (Hiroyuki Sanada) is fighting a war against invading hoards. As part of his strategy to win a battle where he faces vastly overwhelming numbers, he decides to buy some slaves and use them as cannon fodder by letting the opposition slaughter them thinking they are his troops. Amongst these slaves is a young man called Kunlun (Jang Don Gun) who possesses an amazing ability to run faster than you can imagine. When the enemy uses a herd of bulls to attack the slaves he uses his amazing turn of speed to outrun them and save his own life. Guenguing notices this skill and after being victorious decides to take Kunlun as his own personal slave.

Unbeknownst to Guenguing and Kunlun, an evil lord called Wuhuan (Nicholas Tse) has sent an assassin to kill the general. When he attacks them, the general is badly injured despite his fighting skills and it is Kunlun that ends up seeing off the assassin due to his lightning speed. The assassin realises that he and Kunlun are from the same place, the Land of Snow. This leads to Guenguing sending Kunlun in his place to see the King which results in a number of major events occuring by mistake. The plot gets fairly complex after that as drama, romance, action, skullduggery and action ensue.

It is worth noting that the cut of the film included on our local release is the US cut which is about 20 minutes shorter than the Chinese cut. It was recut for US release by The Weinstein Company. I have read that the film is easier to follow in the original cut and I would definitely like to see it. Despite this the cut included here flows reasonably well considering the fairly convoluted plot. There is some fairly obvious CGI which may annoy some.

Production design, costumes and cinematography are certainly the highlights of this production, although the cinematography is badly affected by the transfer. The costumes are quite amazing although sometimes a little over the top leading to an occasional feeling of slight silliness about the movie. A good example of this a solid gold hand with pointing finger carried around by Wuhuan which he uses as a weapon. This sometimes looks a little comical depending upon where he is pointing it at the time. I would not really recommend this film for martial arts fans as the martial arts style action is quite limited.

This disc features an unskippable piracy warning.

I enjoyed watching this movie despite its flaws and overly complex plot. I would love to see it with a better transfer and it its full cut rather than this truncated US cut. It feels like some parts of the film jump around too much possibly missing important scenes. A film worth seeing for fans of other Chinese historical epics but not the one to see first. Start with Crouching Tiger first instead.

Don't wish to see plot synopses in the future? Change your configuration.

Transfer Quality

Video

The video transfer is extremely disappointing due to three major issues.

Firstly, this film was originally 2.35:1 and it has been pan & scanned to 1.33:1 here which considering the magnificent visuals on offer is a travesty. Some scenes have obviously been cropped and the inclusion on the disc of a widescreen trailer is just insulting.

Secondly, based on the running time I believe that it is an NTSC to PAL conversion as it runs 101:54 on this PAL disc which is the same as the quoted length of the US cut on IMDB. Consistent with this there are interlacing artefacts especially during fast motion. Other PAL versions from Europe run 97 minutes.

Thirdly, a section which seemingly involved a brief glimpse of nudity has been blurred out as if it was a photo of an accused criminal going to court. This is truly ludicrous.

The screen shot below shows the blurring and also the interlacing artefacts.

These things add up to a completely disastrous transfer despite being quite sharp generally with good colour and minimal artefacting (other than that mentioned above). I can only guess that this transfer has been sourced from a television version. Considering the other transfers available in other regions this is just not good enough.

There was also a bit of minor aliasing and some light grain.

There are burned in subtitles in English which were clear and easy to read, however, some flashed by too quickly to read.

The layer change occurs at 65:11 and caused a slight pause.


Video Ratings Summary
Sharpness
Shadow Detail
Colour
Grain/Pixelization
Film-To-Video Artefacts
Film Artefacts
Overall

Audio

The audio quality is very good.

When I received this disc for review I noted on the cover that an English 5.1 soundtrack was included which concerned me because I thought we might have only got a dubbed version, however, luckily good sense prevailed in this department and the soundtracks are both in Mandarin, one Dolby Digital 5.1 track encoded at 448 Kb/s and one Dolby Digital 2.0 track encoded at 224 Kb/s.

Dialogue seemed clear but as I don't understand Mandarin I will have to check with Kevin07 to be sure.

The score by Klaus Badelt is very suitable for the film and provides a nice backdrop to the drama.

The surround speakers were well used for immersion and atmosphere but there were minimal specific effects.

The subwoofer was well used for battle scenes including the hooves of the bulls in the opening battle and throughout for the music.

Audio Ratings Summary
Dialogue
Audio Sync
Clicks/Pops/Dropouts
Surround Channel Use
Subwoofer
Overall

Extras

Menu

The menu was simple but did include an intro, some minor motion, music and a cursor shaped like the dumpling in the opening scene.

Interview - Chen Kaige (3:19)

Short electronic press kit style interview snippets about the themes of the film and martial arts.

Behind the Scenes (2:07)

Very short on set footage with no explanation.

The Promise Trailer (1:47)

As I mentioned above this trailer adds insult to injury by being in widescreen although non 16x9 enhanced.

Other Trailers

Trailers for other Anchor Bay product.

Censorship

    There is censorship information available for this title. Click here to read it (a new window will open). WARNING: Often these entries contain MAJOR plot spoilers.

R4 vs R1

NOTE: To view non-R4 releases, your equipment needs to be multi-zone compatible and usually also NTSC compatible.

Every other release of this film globally (that I can find details of) contains a widescreen transfer.Accordingly any of them can be recommended over this. The best version seems to be a 2 Disc version from Hong Kong by Deltamac which includes the original cut, deleted scenes, interviews, galleries and is also available in a deluxe version which includes postcards and a booklet. It also has English subtitles and a DTS-ES 6.1 soundtrack.

Summary

An interesting and compelling Chinese historical epic which has some faults which restrict it from the class of other similar films.

The video quality is unacceptable.

The audio quality is very good.

The disc has a small collection of extras.

Ratings (out of 5)

Video
Audio
Extras
Plot
Overall

© Daniel Bruce (Do you need a bio break?)
Friday, August 08, 2008
Review Equipment
DVDPioneer DV667A DVD-V DVD-A SACD, using Component output
DisplaySony FD Trinitron Wega KV-AR34M36 80cm. Calibrated with Digital Video Essentials (PAL). This display device is 16x9 capable. This display device has a maximum native resolution of 576i (PAL)/480i (NTSC).
Audio DecoderBuilt in to amplifier/receiver. Calibrated with Video Essentials.
AmplificationPioneer VSX-511
SpeakersMonitor Audio Bronze 2 (Front), Bronze Centre & Bronze FX (Rears) + Sony SAW2500M Subwoofer

Other Reviews NONE
Comments (Add)
Transfer quality - wolfgirv REPLY POSTED