In the time of the snowy eagle, thousands of crimson petals ago, a little girl steps lightly on the graves of her ancestors and rain droplets fall on the just and the unjust alike. A mighty general proves to be no loftier than the lowliest slave, whose fate it is to protect the shoeless. Still, one bread maker has the power to sing like a bell, while his daughter can smite men with a magic… Oh, sorry, just conjuring up my own little Asian martial-arts fantasy, inspired by the yards of synthetic stuff Chinese director/co-writer Chen Kaige whips together to justify the lavish special-effects budget for The Promise.
In Chen’s no less labored version, a princess (Cecilia Cheung) who, as a girl, breaks a promise to a little boy is visited by a goddess (Chen Hong) who offers her a life of celebrated beauty, at a price: She will always lose any man she loves. Enter the dragon, or at least a general (Hiroyuki Sanada) and his slave (Jang Dong-Gun), who can run like the wind, and who fills in, disguised as the general, when his master is injured, to the confusion of the princess, who falls in love with the slave thinking he’s the general. An acquisitive duke (Nicholas Tse) also glares threateningly, while an undead assassin (Liu Yeh) chooses to help rather than kill the slave.
There’s a nice Road Runner-cartoon moment when the slave runs really, really fast, carrying the wounded general on his back while dodging an attack of CG bulls. I can’t imagine Road Runner was what Chen had in mind for the most expensive movie ever made in China, but then, I was born too late for the time of the snowy eagle.