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Section Header
The Promise
Composed and Co-Produced by:
Klaus Badelt

Conducted by:
Li Xincao

Orchestrated by:
Robert Elhai
Jeff Toyne
Ian Honeyman
Andrew Rather

Performed by:
The Chinese National Symphony Orchestra

Co-Produced by:
Christopher Brooks

Superb Records

Release Date:
May 16th, 2006

Also See:
Beyond Rangoon
Final Fantasy
Pans Labyrinth
The Time Machine

Audio Clips:
1. Freedom of the Wa (0:30):
WMA (200K)  MP3 (254K)
Real Audio (179K)

3. Love Theme (0:30):
WMA (200K)  MP3 (254K)
Real Audio (179K)

6. Guangming, the General (0:28):
WMA (191K)  MP3 (239K)
Real Audio (168K)

18. Come Back (0:32):
WMA (211K)  MP3 (269K)
Real Audio (189K)

Regular U.S. release.


The Promise

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Sales Rank: 410692

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Buy it... if you want to hear a group of China's best orchestral players and singers translate an unproven composer's truly American sound into a magnificent blend of style and beauty.

Avoid it... if the simplicity of Klaus Badelt's constructs, still rooted in the basic chord progressions that have defined his career, detract from the authenticity of the genre.

The Promise: (Klaus Badelt) Stylish Chinese fantasy films have stunned worldwide audiences in the years since Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon dramatically swept the genre into the mainstream, and Chen Kaige's The Promise attempts the same transition. The most expensive Chinese film ever made, The Promise tells the supernatural adventure and romance story of a princess who has chosen immortality over love, and the three men (ranging from a servant to a general and a duke) vying for her affections. With even the melodrama written to epic proportions, every aspect of the film was conceived in lavish extravagance, not to mention the usual body-flying special effects specific to these Chinese martial arts showcases. The unfortunate demise of The Promise came when it was edited from 128 minutes down to 108 for its American version, leaving a significant portion of the character development in the first half of the film to be assumed. As a result, the film was critically assaulted for being a nonsensical display of art direction without a plot, and The Promise never received the kind of mainstream popularity that was expected of it. One of the more bizarre parts of The Promise to originally digest for Western audiences was the assignment of Media Ventures clone Klaus Badelt to the film's scoring duties. Despite his attachment to several successful American films and scores, Badelt's career had largely been an intellectual wasteland, littered at best with derivative and cliched romps like The Time Machine and heavily populated at the lower end with synthetic incoherence worthy of Catwoman. His music has always suffered a lack of complexity that has been attributed to other Media Ventures products as well, even in Ned Kelly, the score often cited as the composer's best effort. With all this in mind, it's easy to cringe the first time you pick up the album for The Promise. Rarely do you get a situation that seems so ill-fated, but as Clint Mansell reminded us in 2005 with Sahara, you can sometimes hear good and effective music in the most unlikely situations. Badelt's work for The Promise is our equivalent reminder for 2006.

In its basic constructs, you can tell that The Promise is a typical Badelt score. The themes utilize all the same typical, unimaginative chord progressions that often inhabit the scores of Hans Zimmer and his minions, but beyond the structure of those themes, the usual problem with such scores is the pairing of those basic constructs with an equally bland sonic field of electronic instruments and synthetic percussion. Of the two ills, the lack of diverse instrumentation is by far the fatal element, for many maestros have proven over time that even the most simplistic chord progressions in a theme can be made deliciously enticing by their exotic execution. Ironically, these simple thematic constructs can even be more entertaining on album given the pleasurable nature of similar progressions used in 90% of songs today, depending on how they are orchestrated and performed. An excellent example of this phenomenon is Badelt's The Promise. In this highly engaging score, you still hear the basic, underlying chord progressions of Badelt's more mundane writing. He doesn't make much of an attempt to imitate the stereotypical structures of the more authentic Chinese writing of Tan Dun, but rather uses the harmonically pleasant simplicity of his themes to translate the sound of The Promise for more acceptable to Western ears. While the love theme attempts to break free with its more dynamic range, the main theme for the film will remind Hans Zimmer collectors of several thematic passages in his 1994 score for Beyond Rangoon. Where The Promise strikes gold is in how it is rendered for The Chinese National Symphony Orchestra and vocalist Hang Yue, providing an opportunity to hear a nearly completely non-synthetic ensemble with several notable instrumental soloists performing the writing that we have, through the years, only struggled with hearing on keyboards. What Badelt indeed proves with The Promise is that there's nothing inherently wrong with his writing, but rather the bleak, lifeless manner with which he records it. The Promise is filled with flourishing orchestral creativity and a remarkable incorporation of vocals and instrumental soloists, painting a vibrant and intoxicating picture with the broad strokes of its imaginative colors. If only Hans Zimmer could hire the Chinese National Symphony Orchestra to perform the next Pirates of the Caribbean score and stock some fresh orchestrators...

Led by Badelt's slow, flowing themes and rhythms --not to mention that inescapable sense of power that seemingly always comes from a Media Ventures score's expanded bass, a bass still electronically enhanced in parts here -- The Promise is as satisfying a merging of Chinese and Western sounds as we have heard in recent years, easily eclipsing Dun's heralded entries in the genre. He writes distinct themes for each of the film's four main characters, as well as an overarching "Wuji" title theme for the entire picture. These themes are loyally stated throughout the score, with none being a substantially weak link in the fabric. They are heard in snapshot succession at the opening of the lengthy album for The Promise, starting with a sub-theme that ironically eclipses the five main ideas to follow. The allure of "Freedom of the Wa" exists in its exotic layering of Yue's voice in a synthetic manner somewhat similar to the Mariam Stockley/Adiemus world/new age albums, but with a distinctly Eastern touch. Over a bed of conservatively mixed percussion and the full orchestral ensemble in magnificent counterpoint, this piece is the highlight of the album. The title theme follows, and its dizi bamboo flute solos yield to a massive statement that can only be described as the kind of monumental sound that you've always imagined hearing if only a huge, well-mixed orchestra were to perform those synthetic Media Ventures anthems. The flute continues with the delicate backing of cimbalom into the primary "Love Theme" performance. Once again, the depth of the full ensemble, especially in the string section, is astonishing in these cues. The plight of the slave character is led by the erhu, elegantly providing the authenticity of the score's location while also yielding, as the other themes do, to a full group performance. The presence of cymbal and gong rolls in this cue add a mysticism to the score that might have been better pronounced had they been mixed at a higher gain. The theme for the princess is largely understated, though a muting of her music's romantic tendencies is perhaps an appropriate move. The theme for the general is a flurry of brassy Media Ventures bombast once again made interesting by its translation into a truly non-synthetic existence, despite the usual chopping strings, brass blasts, and thumping percussion (hearing the Chinese interpret this distinctly Americanized sound is amazing). The duke's theme is as understated as that of the princess, but with a darker minor key emphasis in its underplayed menace.

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Aside from the dedicated performances to the primary themes, Badelt doesn't allow the score to dissolve into monotony at any point. There may be some moments challenged by the testosterone of the Media Ventures sound, as in the second half of "Princess Kite," but at some point in each of these cues, the masterful orchestrations of veteran Robert Elhai and others (leading to inevitable connections at times to works like Elliot Goldenthal's Final Fantasy: The Spirits Within) save the score with a pronounced instrumental solo. The remarkable vocal layering in "Freedom of the Wa" only returns in the magical "Snow Country," a cue aided in majesty by a light choral accompaniment. The love theme would triumph in the end, as expected, with a resounding performance to finish "Wuhuan's Plan." An astonishingly heartbreaking reprise of the theme for the slave is presented (again with cymbals and gong) in "Come Back," and a similarly powerful flourish of the love theme would grace "Waterfall." These crescendos of theme exist throughout the score's massive action pieces (such as "The Robe" and "Stampede," among others), producing an enjoyable flow that alternates between the occasionally haunting solo performances on flute and erhu and the full ensemble explosions. The mid-range brass in these ensemble performances is especially well rendered and mixed, reminiscent of Jerry Goldsmith's work (especially the Rambo scores). Few moments of downtime exist in The Promise, almost exhausting you by its conclusion. It doesn't exhaust in the same fashion as a score like 2006's Pans Labyrinth from Javier Navarrete, which does so with its dense and challenging constructs, but The Promise rather overwhelms you with the sheer size of its harmonious themes and the creative force behind its action rhythms. In the end, it doesn't really matter if you can keep all of Badelt's themes straight, for they are all so strongly realized in performance that only an overwhelming impression of magnificence is left upon the listener. There will still be a handful of listeners who balk at the relative simplicity underneath all the noise, and for those collectors, the recent work of Navarrete, Dario Marianelli, and other emerging European composers in the action genre will better satisfy your tastes. But The Promise is still the kind of score we're always hoping to hear from a composer like Klaus Badelt, leaping to new territories and, more importantly, taking full advantage of a wildly fresh opportunity. ***** Price Hunt: CD or Download

Bias Check:For Klaus Badelt reviews at Filmtracks, the average editorial rating is 3 (in 11 reviews)
and the average viewer rating is 3.16 (in 101,154 votes). The maximum rating is 5 stars.

 Viewer Ratings and Comments:  

Regular Average: 3.85 Stars
Smart Average: 3.66 Stars*
***** 209 
**** 122 
*** 57 
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  (View results for all titles)
    * Smart Average only includes
         40% of 5-star and 1-star votes
              to counterbalance fringe voting.
   Re: An excellent score!
  John -- 10/18/07 (1:18 p.m.)
   Re: 2006's big suprise
  John -- 10/18/07 (1:14 p.m.)
   Have been waiting for this review
  Jeroen Admiraal -- 1/19/07 (5:19 a.m.)
   I think he did a great job of covering the ...
  Yavar Moradi -- 1/19/07 (12:56 a.m.)
   An excellent score!
  Mikae from Finland -- 1/19/07 (12:23 a.m.)
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 Track Listings: Total Time: 72:41

• 1. Freedom of the Wa (2:40)
• 2. Wuji - Main Theme (3:45)
• 3. Love Theme (2:13)
• 4. Kunlun, the Slave (1:48)
• 5. Qingcheng, the Princess (1:22)
• 6. Guangming, the General (1:07)
• 7. Wuhuan, the Duke (1:53)
• 8. Princess Kite (5:03)
• 9. The Promise (5:22)
• 10. Snow Country (4:32)
• 11. The Robe (8:04)
• 12. Save the King (4:00)
• 13. Guilang, the Assassin (2:24)
• 14. Saving a Princess (3:17)
• 15. Feather Fight (2:04)
• 16. Waterfall (2:44)
• 17. Stampede (4:45)
• 18. Come Back (4:28)
• 19. Birdcage (1:53)
• 20. Wuhuan's Plan (10:20)

 Notes and Quotes:  

The insert includes lengthy notes by director Chen Kaige about the film, but no extra information about the score.

  All artwork and sound clips from The Promise are Copyright © 2007, Superb Records. The reviews and other textual content contained on the site may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed without the prior written authority of Filmtracks Publications. Audio clips can be heard using RealPlayer but cannot be redistributed without the label's expressed written consent. Page created 1/12/07 (and not updated significantly since). Review Version 5.1 (PHP). Copyright © 2007-2015, Christian Clemmensen (Filmtracks Publications). All rights reserved.