Book vs. Film: The Promise 無極


The Promise 無極 (wú jí), by Jingming Guo 郭敬明 • Published by 圖神出版社 • ★★★★ • Goodreads

THE BOOK

The interesting thing about the book counterpart of The Promise is that it was written after the movie. The director chose a writer and granted him the creativity to write the story again, but keeping the beginning and the ending the same. This is actually great because the movie, admittedly (on hindsight), wasn't that great in comparison to the book.

Jingming inserted new fantasy elements into the story, which was pretty weak in the movie. He also created an entirely new fighting system and introduced another faction into the power struggle between Wuhuan, Qingcheng, and Guangming. Never underestimate the power of a world that is well-built.

I would like to think The Promise is trying to talk about the circle of life, but it also romanticizes it into a tragedy (of sorts). If you could see your future and your fate, would you believe it? If you believe it, would you just do nothing and see if it happens? Or would you try to act upon it, but that results in your fate coming true due to your actions? It is a sort of paradox, I suppose.

The best part of the book is that it isn't heavily focused on romance, but on leading the reader to go through the entire circle, while unraveling the secrets of each character. Something that the movie lacked. I enjoyed the secrets behind Qian Yu Lou 千羽楼 (Thousand Feathers Loft, loosely translated) very much, especially the facade they created in Chen Yue Xuan 沉月轩 (Sunken Moon Pavilion, loosely translated).

It was basically an excellent re-telling of the movie. It feels bizarre saying this when there are so many films being adapted from books. There are movies that release books that tell the exact story of the film, but The Promise is different. It exemplifies the phrase "the book is better" very well.

The Promise 無極 (wú jí) • Released in 2005 • Screenplay by Kaige Chen 陈凯歌  • ★½ • IMDB

THE FILM

I first watched this when I was a teenager, which was when it first released. At that time, I remembered loving the costumes and the sets, especially the giant bird cage scene. Also, it probably helped that Nicholas Tse was one of my first "actor crushes". (Well, he still is, if I must be honest. :P) I guess teenage-me wasn't very concerned with the story at the time.

However, watching it now in 2016 gave me an entirely new experience. The acting and dubbing were rather cringe-worthy. Dubbing is exceptionally important to me because I love voices that are comfortable and also matching of the character's "aura". The acting felt very exaggerated to me, especially for Guangming and Qingcheng. It's kind of awkward as well, I would think it's due the language barrier between the actors... but then again, they were supposed to be rather experienced (if not seasoned at the time).

The redeeming quality was the costumes and sets still, even after eleven years. The colours used were great, especially for the Flower Armour (or Crimson Armour). The most hilarious prop that left an impression on me was Wuhuan's scepter, which had a hand with the index finger pointing at whatever he pointed. It added comedic relief to the otherwise serious story. We shall not talk about the CGI effects here, because they are just... unbelievable and did not blend in well at all in most scenes.

What I disliked most after watching it now was that without the system that Jingming built in the book, the movie's story is lacklustre. It was basically about three guys, fighting over one woman who, thanks to the weird make-up, wasn't really living up to being the most beautiful woman in the kingdom. Though, towards the end, the bizarre make-up wore off and she finally looked normal.

The backstory of Kunlun was originally a good one, one that propelled him into embracing his unique powers, but it was (mis)used into propelling his character into one that was supposedly of equal status of Qingcheng (the only woman in the story). I'm not sure what was the point of bringing Qingcheng back to the past, if not to revoke her promise to the goddess so that she may find true love. That is a weak line to follow, since if she did so, then whatever sacrifice Kunlun made for her would not happen in that parallel. In comparison, Kunlun's going back to the past to rescue his entire tribe, that makes for a better story as he might emerge a different man in that parallel.

Overall, it was a good decision of reworking the film through a book, by granting a good writer the rights to do so. It was no wonder the film faced negative reviews because I could see how seemingly "plot-less" it was, as compared to the book. It seemed to rely on the star-filled cast, which failed unfortunately.

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