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Enjoyable, sweeping East-West fusion from the unlikeliest source
A review by JAMES SOUTHALL
Music composed by
* * * 1/2
Album running time
Album cover copyright (c) 2006 Beijing 21st Century Shengkai, China Film Group and Moonstone Productions, LLC.; review copyright (c) 2006 James Southall
For all I know, the Chinese have been making films like Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon for decades. Indeed, they probably have. But it is only in the aftermath of the success of that film that the western world has seen a whole stream of "lookalikes" come along - Hero, House of Flying Daggers etc. The latest is The Promise. While all of these (and the similar) films look extraordinary, none has quite reached the panache of Crouching Tiger yet, at least in my opinion. Of course, that film received an opulent score by Tan Dun; if I were to make a list of composers least likely to follow in Dun's footsteps then Klaus Badelt would be towards the top of that list, and yet here he is, scoring The Promise.
I'm not quite sure why director Chen Kaige wanted a western composer for his film - everyone else who worked on it is Chinese - and to choose the one composer associated with Remote Control (the new name for what was Media Ventures) who has managed to build up just about the worst reputation seems strange indeed. However, listening to Badelt's music, it quickly becomes apparent why - in the days of innovative scores like The Pledge and derivative-but-entertaining ones like The Time Machine - he actually seemed to be a promising young composer. The years since then have seen a string of disastrously-poor scores come from his pen, but The Promise is a real return to form.
Needless to say, the score owes a debt of gratitude to Tan Dun's Crouching Tiger and Hero - not to mention a less obvious influence, but one which is certainly there, in the form of Elliot Goldenthal's Final Fantasy - and it's all done with a distinct Media Ventures tinge ("Feather Flight" could be straight out of Crimson Tide, but that's about the only track that could). It's extremely enjoyable, though. There is pomp and sweep and majesty here - for sure, it's incredibly simplistic, but sometimes that's appropriate enough, as I suspect it is in this film.
The music's performed by the China National Symphony Orchestra - a standard western-style set-up - with ethnic flavour provided as usual by winds and wordless vocals. To my ears, there is just something slightly irresistible about this east/west crossover, and I find myself always attracted towards these scores - it's virtually impossible to be unmoved by an epic piece like "The Robe", however derivative it might be. The Promise is clearly not on the level of the aforementioned works by Dun, but its more sanitised style might actually appeal more to some listeners. Most of the score is distinctly romantic, appealing to the purest emotions, but there is action music too - something to satisfy most tastes. Those who like more complex orchestral works might not find much to enjoy, but others should have fun. This is easily Badelt's best score since those early years and let's hope he can find more work like this in future, and stop making turgid blockbusters even worse than they already are with his naff electronic crap. There's a good composer in there - and The Promise may just provide him with the inspiration to seek out more films that allow him to express himself in this way.