At its original length of 121 minutes, Chen Kaige’s “The Promise” is only slightly different from the 102-minute version being released in most territories outside of East Asia. The contorted action and story elements — involving a master general (Hiroyuki Sanada), his supersonically swift slave (Jang Dong-gun) and a princess (Cecilia Cheung) fated to a loveless life of riches — remain overwhelming problems in either version.
Pace is naturally a bit more languid in original, longer version, and certain domestic interaction between the general and slave — who are both in love with the princess — is the most significant dramatic element Chen chose to delete from shortened edition. This is in line with earlier reports that distrib Weinstein Co. (which parted from pic just prior to its one-week December Oscar qualifying run in Los Angeles) wanted to stress the martial arts fantasy’s action elements in a version the Weinsteins wanted to title “Master of the Crimson Armor.”
Emotional connections are no stronger in the full-length pic. Rather than make major structural alterations to shorten the film, it’s evident Chen and editor Zhou Ying performed nips and tucks within scenes. Any claim that the original is a “director’s cut,” and thus preferable, is shaky indeed. The shorter version is, at least, shorter, which, given the pic’s nearly impenetrable activity, is a small blessing.
To read Robert Koehler’s review of the 102-minute version, click here.