The Promise is a visually spectacular Chinese fairytale framed with the Eastern equivalent of Once upon a time, in a land, far, far away … In this world, men and gods occupy the same landscape—the former are violent; the later are mischievous—and when they mingle, destinies are altered.
Our story opens in the aftermath of battle, in which a young girl is caught stealing food from a dead soldier. Her captor is a young boy and she manages to dupe him into letting her go free—an incident that would haunt both their lives. Our sympathies for the girl's plight are heightened when we realize she is trying to get the food to her dying mother. But when the goddess Manshen (Chen Hong) happens upon the girl and reveals her mother is already dead, she tearfully devours the bread with the goddess' admonition echoing in her ears, "You must live."
Manshen makes the girl an offer that would alter the course of her life. She can grow up to be rich and beautiful on one condition—she will lose every man she truly loves unless time flows backward, it snows in spring (all she needs to do is move to Chicago, but I digress), and the dead come back to life. In the seconds that the girl ponders life without the love of a man—exchanging something that, to a young girl, must have seemed like an abstract good from for something that which would assuage her very present hunger—I couldn't help but think of Eve's decision in Genesis 3 to eat the forbidden fruit. Surely neither woman was capable of grasping the full ramifications of her decision. But both women nodded and by their choices, destinies changed.
The narrative jumps ahead and the young girl has grown up to be Princess Qingcheng (Cecilia Cheung). She ...