2006, Thu, Apr 27

The Promise

D: Chen Kaige

Chen Kaige | The Promise | Copyright: Beijing 21 st Century Shengkai, China Film Group, Moonstone Productions.

Chen Kaige | The Promise | Copyright: Beijing 21 st Century Shengkai, China Film Group, Moonstone Productions.

Opening: Chen Kaige Special
The House of World Cultures is starting the film series Celluloid Revolutions with two films by Chen Kaige: The Promise (2005), which opens today in German cinemas, and Yellow Earth (1985). Ever since his pioneering debut with Yellow Earth, Chen Kaige (alongside Zhang Yimou) has been celebrated as the Chinese filmmaker per se. In China, Kaige’s latest work, The Promise, which displays a surreal mixture of fantasy and mythology, has drawn more people into the cinema than any other film.

The Promise
D: Chen Kaige, China / Hongkong / Japan / South Korea 2005, 103 min, German subtitles

A poor orphan, who survives by stealing from corpses on battlefields, makes a goddess a Faustian promise: in return for riches, beauty and men’s admiration, she announces that she is prepared to lose the man she loves. Years later, when she falls in love with a knight in red armour, nothing—it seems—can avert her tragic fate. However, a young slave, who displays sheer superhuman courage, succeeds in stopping the wheel of history for a moment. The film is an almost faithful cinematic presentation of a fairy tale with all the magic and disregard for realism so characteristic of these stories. Chen Kaige relies on a formal visual language that has been developed to such a high degree of perfection by Chinese Opera over the centuries. Through powerful orgies of colour—black, white and red for the armies and blue and violet for the countryside—and digitised battle scenes, he creates a fantasy world of almost surreal quality.

Followed by a talk with Dai Jinhua, curator of the film programme, and Yingjin Zhang. Yingjin Zhang wrote a comprehensive encyclopaedia of Chinese film (published in London in 1998) as well as the standard work From Underground to Independent: Alternative Film Culture in Contemporary China (published 2006).