*/**** Image A Sound A- Extras C
starring Hiroyuki Sanada, Jang Dong Gun, Cecilia Cheung, Nicholas Tse
screenplay by Chen Kaige and Zhang Tan
directed by Chen Kaige
by Walter Chaw Any fad reaches its nadir in due time and the Western wuxia infatuation, which started somewhere around Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon and more or less peaked with Zhang Yimou's exceptional Hero, has found its basement in the truncated version of Chen Kaige's already-pretty-embarrassing The Promise. Somewhere, King Hu is spinning in his grave. An abomination just about any way you slice it, this ultra-expensive, CGI'd-to-exhaustion wire-fu epic--especially as sanitized for North America's consumption--suggests the world's saddest public display of penis envy. Chen, hailing from the same Fifth Generation school as Zhang, produces a show-offy, self-indulgent bit of flamboyant one-upsmanship destined to become a queer camp classic. When the Crimson General (Hiroyuki Sanada) trades in his fabulous duds for a lavender muumuu in which to trade barbs with archenemy Wuhuan (Nicholas Tse, suspended somewhere between pretty girl and Japanese anime hero), a bad guy garbed in white feathers who wields a gold staff topped with a bronze hand, index finger extended in proctological menace, the homoeroticism of the piece--already distracting in the subtext--suddenly becomes the main event. It's probably this unfathomable cut of the film's Rosetta Stone, in fact, pared down to some half-assed companion piece to Chen's own Farewell My Concubine. Without much strain you can see The Promise being transformed, in all its kitsch excess, into a Broadway pop-opera: Memoirs of a Geisha: The Musical.