The Promise—a Chinese film originally titled Wu ji—is a fantasy film of a Chinese legend, in which a starving little girl with a dying mother makes a desperate promise to the toying Goddess Manshen: She will be beautiful, adored, and live a rich, pampered life, but in exchange she will lose every man she ever loves. Years later, when she has grown into the Princess Qingcheng (Cecilia Cheung), she meets a slave, Kunlun (Dong-Kun Jang), who can inexplicably run incredibly fast and jump to the point of nearly flying. The details of their characters' story are convoluted and unrealistic, as most legends' nonsensical plots tend to be, but yes, they fall in love. There are battles and curses and magic and villains, of course, all a lavish opera to convey a message about deciding and changing your own fate.
Legendary stories such as these, filled as they are with haunting landscapes and vivid characters, lend themselves nicely to film. And despite some less-than-perfect CGI moments, the visuals of The Promise are its strong suit. Images of a fierce red-armored army, a "land of snow," and a human birdcage are noteworthy, as is the costuming of the film—there are cloaks of feathers; a popular general wears an imposing set of armor; and the wardrobe even includes exotic his-and-hers matching daywear.
But the visual excitement that sets the tone at the beginning of The Promise begins to peter out halfway through the film. By this point, it becomes clear that the characters and the story, while theoretically full of enchantment, are in truth somewhat hollow—twisting, fantastical plots can twist and fantasize all they want, but if they don't touch the audience, they fail. The Princess, whose curse could be exquisite and tragic, is almost totally inaccessible, and her romantic entanglements rote rather than passionate—and one comes away from The Promise grateful for its attractive visions, and unfulfilled by its frustrating distance.