The Promise (2005 film)

Infobox Film
name = The Promise

caption =
director = Chen Kaige
writer = Chen Kaige
starring = Jang Dong-gun Hiroyuki Sanada Cecilia Cheung Nicholas Tse Liu Ye Chen Hong
producer = Kim Dong-ju Chen Hong
distributor = flagicon|China China Film Group
flagicon|USA Warner Independent Pictures
budget =
released = flagicon|Hong Kong December 15 2005 flagicon|PRC December 15 2005 flagicon|Thailand January 3, 2006
flagicon|USA May 5 2006
runtime = 128 minutes
language = Mandarin
imdb_id = 0417976
amg_id = 1:327652
website =

"The Promise" (zh-stpl|s=无极|t=無極|p=Wújí|l=Limitless) is a 2005 Chinese epic fantasy film directed by Chen Kaige and starring Jang Dong-gun, Hiroyuki Sanada, Cecilia Cheung and Nicholas Tse. The film is based on the wuxia romance "The K’un-lun Slave", written by "P’ei Hsing" at the time of the Tang Dynasty. [Liu, James J.Y. The Chinese Knight Errant. London: Routledge and Kegan Paul, 1967 (ISBN 0-2264-8688-5)]

First released in mainland China on December 15, 2005, [Xinhua: [ Dates set for the battle between Zhang Yimou and Chen Kaige] ] as well as Hong Kong and Singapore. The Weinstein Company adapted it for North American distributions and 3-day preview screenings, but they sold the movie to Warner Independent Pictures. While under the control of TWC, they trimmed out 19 minutes of scenes and renamed it "Master of the Crimson Armor". Eventually, it was released on May 5, 2006 as "The Promise".

When it was released in Asian markets, the crowd reactions were mixed. In China, public response was largely negative and made USD$9 million dollars in mainland China in the opening week and HK$8 million dollars in Hong Kong. [cite web|url= | title=Studios hope leaner means greener| publisher= Variety | author = Frater, Patrick | date = 2005-12-25|accessdate =2007] The budget was rumored to be CN¥282~340 million yuan (USD$35~$42 million dollars), surpassing the cost of "Hero". [cite web|url=|publisher=Xinhua| title=| author = Xinhua staff|date=2006-02-09| accessdate=2008-01-09]

Despite the negative buzz, it is one of two Chinese movies in 2006 to be nominated for Golden Globes Best Foreign Language Film at the 63rd Golden Globe Awards.


In a war-ravaged land where danger is rampant and food scarce, a young girl named Qingcheng feeds herself and her mother by pillaging the bodies of dead soldiers. One day, after finding some bread, Qingcheng pulls the boots off a hanging corpse for herself. However, it was all a trick as the "corpse" is not dead, but a boy about the same age as Qincheng. He is able to string up Qingcheng, and tells her she shouldn't steal. After Qingcheng promises to be his slave, he cuts her down and she asks if she can see his helmet. Upon receiving the helmet, she uses it to smack him on the head and flees with the bread.

While crossing over some water Qingcheng drops her bread, but the bread is caught by a goddess, Manshen and is brought back to Qingcheng. Asked by the goddess why she does not eat the bread, Qingcheng replied that she is saving the food for her mother. The goddess then tells the girl that her mother is dead. Grief stricken, the girl eats the bread. Before she departs, the goddess offers her a chance to live a life in which she will have all the food she wants, will be able to wear the most beautiful clothing, and men will fall helplessly in love with her. However, there is a catch: she will not experience true love. If she should find love, she is destined to lose it. The girl readily accepts the conditions, and her fate is sealed. The goddess tells her she cannot reverse it unless rivers of bitter tears run upwards and she can outrun time.

Years later, after a brutal battle in which his regiment of 3,000 men was able to defeat a barbarian horde of 20,000, General Guangming (played by Hiroyuki Sanada) is informed that the King is being attacked by the traitorous Duke Wuhuan (played by Nicholas Tse) from the north. While he and his slave Kunlun (played by Jang Dong-Gun), a man of supernatural strength and speed, search for the path back to the kingdom they become lost and decide to split up to find their way. However, while looking for the path, General Guangming comes across the goddess who informs him that the victory against the barbarians would be his last because soon a man wearing Guangming's crimson armor would kill the King and his name would be besmirched. Laughing, Guangming states that he would never kill the king.

After the goddess departs, Wuhuan's assassin Snow Wolf (played by Liu Ye) attacks Guangming. Kunlun finds his master wounded and his master tells him to wear his armor and save the king. Kunlun asks how can he tell who is the king and Guangming replies that the king will be the one without a weapon.

Back at the palace, the King and his princess, (the grownup) Qingcheng (played by Cecilia Cheung), stand upon the top of the palace walls which are surrounded by Wuhuan's soldiers. Wuhuan demands that the King give him Qingcheng, something the king is all too willing to do. Angered by this, Qingcheng tells the soldiers that she will strip off a layer of clothing if they will kill the king. Since her stunning beauty entrances them, they willingly attempt to do as she asks. Infuriated, the king draws his sword and it is at this point that Kunlun, dressed in Guangming's armor, arrives at the scene and throws his sword at the king, impaling and killing him, rescuing Qingcheng. However, their victory is short lived because Wuhuan and his men catch up to them. Wuhuan states that if Guangming jumps off a high cliff he will spare the life of Qingcheng. Kunlun, in love with Qingcheng and knowing that he can survive the fall, jumps.

Kunlun returns to his master and gives back the crimson armor. Guangming is angered as he had been beaten and tied up to a tree by his own men who did not kill him only because he had been their superior officer, all because Kunlun killed the king. The two hurry to rescue Qingcheng, in which they are successful. Qingcheng is in love with Guangming because of the words he said to her before he jumped ("You must not die, you have to live"); however, she does not know that it was actually Kunlun who spoke these words, so her heart's desires are misguided. Kunlun, whose own desires come second to his master's, stands aside while Guangming tries to make Qingcheng fall in love with him. Kunlun instead is captured by Wuhuan, who realizes Kunlun killed the king in Guangming's armor.

Qingcheng and Guangming spend time living a happy lovebirds' life, meanwhile Kunlun finds out from Snow Wolf that Wuhuan was the culprit in invading his home country and killing all his people including his mother and sister (Snow Wolf did this by running so fast he reverses time and showed him the past). Kunlun also learns that Snow Wolf was one of his own, and the only one that survived besides Kunlun. However, Snow Wolf only survived the massacre because he subjected himself to torture and being Wuhuan's servant. In fear of death, Snow Wolf agreed to wear a robe that grants eternal life, and will die if he should take it off.

Wuhuan tricks Guangming to come back to the palace by sending one of Guangming's former subordinates and telling him Wuhuan had been captured. In reality, all the solders had come to Wuhuan's side and Guangming becomes imprisoned, waiting for his execution in the name of killing the king. Qingcheng sends Kunlun after Guangming's departure to get him back, but the captured Guangming tells Kunlun he is a defeated general and no longer worth anything. Kunlun gets mad and tells Guangming he is indeed not worthy of Qingcheng's love and he will wear the crismon armor to see Qingcheng and tell her he had been the real man that rescued her. Unfortunately, Qingcheng has been kidnapped by Wuhuan. Wuhuan now prepares to kill everyone and tells Snow Wolf to take Kunlun's life, but Snow Wolf gives up his own life to save Kunlun by removing his robe and giving Kunlun the crimson armor.

After a trial in which Guangming, Kunlun, and Qingcheng are charged with murder of the king, Wuhuan gets to choose their punishment. He has Kunlun tied in a tree, Guangming tied to the building, and Qingcheng tied to his throne. Taunting Qingcheng, Wuhuan tells her that her two loves are out of reach, just as they always will be. He also has food and water placed out, which none of the three can reach. Guangming promises to wear Snow Wolf's robe as well as be Wuhuan's servant and says no one wants to die. While reaching for the robe, Guangming takes a sword and engages in a final fight with Wuhuan. During the fight, Kunlun's ropes are cut. In the end, Guangming has a rope around Wuhuan's throat, while Wuhuan has a knife to Qingcheng's neck. The two agree to let go, but when Wuhuan drops the knife, Guangming pulls on the rope and tries to strangle Wuhuan. However, Wuhuan has a second knife and stabs Guangming. Wuhuan, feeling defiant, tells Guangming that no one wants to die. Qingcheng kicks the knife that fell before, and Wuhuan, thinking it is Kunlun, throws his dagger and hits the tree. The ropes that held Kunlun wrap around Wuhuan's neck and Wuhuan is stabbed by Kunlun. Before he dies, though, Wuhuan takes the knife out of his body and stabs Kunlun. Wuhuan reveals to Qingcheng that he was the boy in the beginning. He tells her that both Kunlun and Guangming are going to die and that Qingcheng can't love anyone. He tells her that she can't change her destiny and then dies. Qingcheng runs to Kunlun, and he tells her to go to Guangming. Torn, she lies next to Guangming, and Guangming tells her before he dies "I want you to live." Kunlun crawls to the robe and survives by putting on the robe that gives immortal life. Water flows upwards and Kunlun, with Qingcheng in his arms, fly off. The goddess tells Qingcheng that fate can change, promises can be broken, and with their love they could outrun time.


"The Promise" was given a “rotten” rating of 32% on Rotten Tomatoes. The critical consensus was that this film had “An incoherent plot and ridiculously obvious CGI effects [which doomed] this effort from the usually outstanding Chinese director Chen Kaige." [ [ The Promise (2005)] ]

The film has been criticized for the environmental damage caused while filming in Yunnan. The film production damaged the vegetation and natural scenery of the area and the surrounding Lake Bigu from filming and set construction, and left behind a large amount of undisposed household waste. [Reuters, "China film director hailed for harming environment", November 1, 2006,] [Nanfengchuang, "The Promise In Shangri La", by Yin Hongwei (尹鸿伟 ). August 24, 2005.] [Shanghai Daily, "Filmmakers despoiled Shangri-La". By Zhu Moqing and Zhang Liuhao. May 11, 2006.] [South China Morning Post, "Fine over damage caused by epic film". by Minnie Chan. [August 12, 2006.]

Box office

"The Promise" grossed an estimated $18,000,000 USD in mainland China. [] Business was much less spectacular in Hong Kong, where it grossed a mere $654,435 USD ($5,073,311 HKD). []

"The Promise" was scheduled to be released in North America by the Weinstein Company in December 2005 under the title "Master of the Crimson Armor". This version was shortened by approximately twenty-five minutes. However, the Weinsteins eventually canceled plans to distribute the film, and North American distribution rights were bought by Warner Independent. Warner reverted the title back to "The Promise", but otherwise retained the Weinstein's cut.

Warner released "The Promise" in North America on May 5, 2006 in 213 theaters. The film grossed $272,838 USD in its opening weekend, and collected $669,625 USD by the end of its run. "The Promise" has grossed $33,539,654 USD worldwide. [ [ The Promise (2006) ] ]


* Hu Ge's A Murder Case Caused by a Bun(一个饅头引起的血案) is a spoof of "The Promise".


External links

* [ "The Promise"] at
* [ MonkeyPeaches]
* [ The Promise - Film Coverage]
* [ Interview] with director Chen Kaige
* [ Interview] with actor Hiroyuki Sanada ("Guangming")

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