December 21, 2005
Perhaps Love and The Promise have both been touted as the biggest Chinese movies this year. How do they compare in terms of story, stars and cast? CHANG MAY CHOON and WENDY TEO give their take
WE HAVE these past two weeks been hit between the eyes with more stardust than we can handle. Japanese-Taiwanese actor Takeshi Kaneshiro swept into town on 4 Dec with his Perhaps Love co-star Zhou Xun and director Peter Chan, while The Promise's Korean star Jang Dong Gun had his fanatical fans banging on glass doors to catch his attention last week. Both are possible contenders for Best Foreign Film in the Oscars race, with Perhaps Love as Hong Kong's entry and The Promise, China's.
With so many parallels, how do the two films compare?
# The Promise: In director Chen Kaige's own words, the story is set '3,000 years ago in the future, somewhere in Asia'. Doesn't make sense? Neither does the movie, sadly. Even though it is the most expensive Chinese film ever, with a bill of US$35 million ($59 million).
A mighty general, a humble slave and an evil duke all compete for the affections of a beautiful princess. But she can love no one because she had made a pact with a sorceress to give up true love for irresistible beauty. Not that the besotted men realise it, so the shallow result is one mindless tussle after another to win the reluctant trophy princess.
# Perhaps Love: This musical within a movie - the first Chinese movie musical in 30 years - will touch even the most cynical viewer. The film is about two top actors and ex-lovers, Lin Jiandong and Sun Na reuniting in a musical.
While Sun Na, who is now dating Nie Wen, claims to have forgotten Jiandong, the latter is determined to make her remember their passionate affair. Meanwhile, Sun Na and Nie Wen's plateauing relationship makes him wonder if theirs is one of mutual benefit or true love.And the musical he directs turns out to be an aching parallel to the real-life love triangle.
# The winner: Perhaps Love, easily - simply because it has a strong, heart-rending plot.
THE MAN AT THE HELM
# The Promise: After making a stunning debut in 1984 with the multiple award-winning epic, Yellow Earth, the highly-respected Chen, 53, went on to produce another masterpiece in Farewell To My Concubine.
It not only won a Palme d'Or at the Cannes Film Festival in 1994, it also got an Oscar nomination. Hollywood beckoned, but Chen's first English film, Killing Me Softly (2002), was a flop panned by critics for its wishy-washy, melodramatic story line. The Promise is his latest film after the well-received Chinese film, Together (2003).
# Perhaps Love: Hong Konger Peter Chan, 43, is one of very few directors with a flawless track record and the Midas touch.
He has produced critically-acclaimed work such as He's A Woman She's A Man I and II, Golden Chicken and Dumplings, while his 1996 film Comrades, Almost A Love Story won him a Golden Bauhinia, Golden Horse, Hong Kong Film and the Hong Kong Film Critics Society awards. His Going Home segment in the trilogy Three also won him a special mention at the Brussels International Festival Of Fantasy Film.
# The winner: Perhaps Love's Peter, for being unbeatable so far.
Perhaps Love's Korean hunk Ji Jin Hee may have a growing fan base here thanks to his drama serial, Jewel In The Palace, but his kimchi is nowhere near as hot as The Promise's Dong Gun.
However, The Promise's stern-faced Japanese lead Hiroyuki Sanada is no match for the swoonsome pretty boy Takeshi in Perhaps Love.
China's Zhou Xun (Perhaps Love) and Liu Ye (The Promise) are both on top of their game.
On the Hong Kong front, the combined acting experience of Nicholas Tse and Cecilia Cheung (The Promise) barely matches Jacky Cheung's (Perhaps Love).
# The winner: It may be a tough fight in terms of star power, but The Promise takes a slight lead in the numbers game.
STAR TOUR POWER
# The Promise: The most promising thing about The Promise has to be Dong Gun.
Always smiling, he was a walking swoon magnet who charmed every woman who crossed his path last week, from the 600 fans at the airport to the 1,000-strong crowd at The Heeren and another 500 at the gala premiere at Great World City. Nobody had anything bad to say about him and newspapers raved about his obliging ways, mesmerising eyes and charisma.
# Perhaps Love: Perhaps the fans didn't love enough.
Compared to Dong Gun, the power of three - Takeshi, Zhou Xun and Peter - had only 200 fans turning up at the airport to greet them. The gala premiere and red carpet walk at the Victoria Theatre fared slightly better with 100 more. But to the fans' disappointment, Takeshi whizzed past the red stretch in 10 minutes without shaking hands or signing autographs. Another blip on Perhaps Love's scorecard was how Takeshi's reticence translated to front-page tongue-lashings on two major newspapers here.
# The winner: The Promise, for Dong Gun truly worked his magic here.
# The Promise: China's critics praised it to the skies, but our local reviewers stomped on it, giving it an average of 2.5 ticks.
Both Lianhe Zaobao and The New Paper gave it 2.5 ticks, while The Straits Times called it a 'spectacular failure' worthy of just two ticks.
# Perhaps Love: The Straits Times gave it 3.5 ticks, saying it 'leaves you stirred but distanced at the same time'.
Lianhe Zaobao gave it four ticks, calling it the best performance by Takeshi ever.
The New Paper also gave it four ticks.
# The winner: Perhaps Love, with its high average of four ticks.
# The verdict: Perhaps Love may have won over the critics, but The Promise - by the power of one man's charm - created more buzz here.
Source: The Eletric New Paper - Singapore