Chen Kaige's The Promise and Iraq (by Roland Soong)

What is the connection between Chen Kaige's movie The Promise and Iraq?  Read on for a translation of a blog post at 不着四六.  This is an interesting, if not thoroughly convincing, interpretation (for example, what is the moral lesson from the ending as when Kunlun put on the black robe and went soaring through the skies with the Queen? and how are we to interpret the role of the Goddess?).  But there are too many things pointed out by the blogger that they cannot all be coincidence.

[in translation]

Do you want to know what is underneath The Promise?  An Alternative Political Reading of The Promise

In recent analyses of The Promise, people say that it was uninteresting but I say that it is extremely interesting.

When examined closely, how can one say that the story of The Promise was based upon nothing but pure fiction?  The thousand-year-old East Asian history is completely contained herein.  I have developed these ideas and I am writing this essay to share them with others.  My professional job is paparazzi (为职业狗仔) and therefore I am particularly adept at picking up the little things, so all you fans of Chen Kaige should understand.  In order to stay fashionable, I have to insert some angry youth ideas, so all you netizens should understand too.

The General named Brightness: He is played by the Japanese actor Hiroyuki Sanada, and he symbolizes Japan.  His armor with the flower design clearly shows that, as this is clearly patented on a traditional Japanese model.  The General is named Brightness, and the son of the Sun should obviously be named just that.  Look at how the General treats the slave Kunlun: he gave him meat to eat, he appeared to be a liberator but he was actually just making use of Kunlun's ability.  This was how Japan treated Korea, when they said that they liberated the Koreans from the half-developed Chinese but they only wanted to use Korea as the springboard from which to invade China.  Within a few years, the Korean kingdom was subsumed by Japan.

The Slave named Kunlun:  A Japanese actor represents Japan.  So the Korean actor Jang Dong-kun obviously represents Korea.  The Koreans often claim that they are a branch of the Altai people from the Kunlun mountains in central Asia just like the Xianbei tribe, and therefore the slave is named Kunlun.  The so-called Snow Country is the idealization by Chen Kaige of the traditional Chinese culture: white clothing that are brighter than snow, hanging hair-tresses and a land that looked like paradise.  This is the ideal China that literary artists imagined for generations.  The Koreans always thought of themselves as a small China.  When the Manchurians destroyed the Ming dynasty, the Koreans thought that they were the only heirs of Chinese culture and they continued to use the Ming calendar.  Therefore, the orphan Kunlun from the Snow Country is Korea, the heir of Chinese culture.

The Northern Duke named Joyless: This young man from the north symbolizes the young United States of America from North America.  He is conceited and arrogant.  He has an elegant outward appearance, but he is corrupt and degenerate inside (hehe, that is what the textbooks say).  He represents western civilization, and has laid the Snow Country (which represents traditional Chinese culture) to waste.  USA controls the United Nations, just like the Duke surrounding the capital city with his troops and using the king to issue orders.  But Korea is friendly with USA, so why did Kunlun mess up the Duke's plans so often?  That is because Korea has another identity -- North Korea, which is a deadly enemy of USA.  Chen Kaige did not forget this and that is very good.:)

The Assassin named Ghost Wolf: The running dog of the American imperialists is Taiwan, such as the Assassin is the running dog of the Duke.  Ghost Wolf and Kunlun are both survivors of the Snow Country.  Taiwan is the final heir of Chinese culture.  Just like the Korea, Taiwan is another Asian orphan.  When South Korea was invaded by North Korea, Taiwan asked to send troops to help, just like the Snow Country orphans Ghost Wolf and Kunlun helped each other.  When Ma Ying-jeou was interviewed recently by Newsweek, he told the Americans clearly that Taiwan will ultimately be unified.  So it seems that Taiwan is the same as Ghost Wolf, who will be able to take off the Duke's black robe (=American weapons of defense) and then eventually return to his home.

The King and the Council of Elders: This is the United Nations.  The Council of Elders controlled by the Duke is actually the United Nations controlled by USA.  When the Elders judged the General, one thinks of the Tokyo International Court judging the Japanese war criminals.  The King is played by Cheng Qian, who is the host for the largest global travel television program, so it is appropriate that he should be playing Kofi Annan.

The Queen: She is the oil-producing nation Iraq, with the original model being Saddam Hussein.  The beautiful image of Cecilia Cheung is obviously quite distant from the guy with the big beard.  But listen to me: the USA (=the Duke) arrives at the capital city and puts the Queen in a bird cage.  During this time, the Koreans sent their troops (=Kunlun took action) and the Japanese got advantages (the General had a good time).  Actually, everybody only wanted to have her oil (=beauty).  Who really loves Iraq?  That is why she can never have real love.

So after all the above, you must want to know where the Chinese (mainlanders) have gone.  Hmm.  I tried to look N times, and I couldn't find it.  Then some wise person told me that the most standard putonghua spoken in the movie came from the barbarians at the beginning of the film.  Everybody else's putonghua was a mess and quite strange.  I thought about it.  Oh yes, those barbarians wearing animal skin and having knotted hair are just Manchurians.  Is Chen Kaige using putongua (=Mandarin) to indicate the China that was ruled by the Manchurians?  As mentioned above, the other person who spoke standard putonghua was Ghost Wolf, who happened to represent China's Taiwan.  It may be too much to say the Chinese are barbarians, but there is nothing absolute with respect to culture.

When the General's 3,000 troops faced up to the 20,000 barbarians, was that not the ratio of Japan versus China back in wartime (70 million versus 450 million)?  When the raging bulls ended up killing their own masters, it is just like Chiang Kai-shek busting the Yellow River dam to stop the Japanese army.  The Japanese army was delayed a few days, but 890,000 of our own people were drowned.  At the same time, this further proves that the group of slaves led by Kunlun purchased by the General refers to the Koreans, which the Japanese army used as cannon fodder during the war.

In thinking about the international theories about the Yellow Peril, the Chinese are progressing ahead at the speed of the raging bulls and they look tough right now.  Deep down, they have no culture.  China right now is situated in a horse-shaped valley and they need an opening to break out.  Otherwise, the problems of environmental pollution, distribution of wealth and so on will chew up the Chinese people.  And this particular opening is probably democracy and freedom.

Overall, Chen Kaige is a city person with culture.  The General (representing Japan) is arrogant and sprung a sudden attack on the Duke at the end, just like the surprise attack on Pearl Harbor.  The Duke (representing USA) claims that he did it not for the beauty (oil) of the Queen (Iraq), but because of a minor deception (hidden weapons).  Kunlun (representing Korea) puts on the bright flower armor of the General and he imagines that he has an independent personality, just like those pro-Japan Koreans who thought that they had equal standing with the Japanese when Korea was joined with Japan.  The barbarians who represent the Chinese are like most Chinese today who do not know that we are trapped in a horse-shoe shaped valley with dangers everywhere.  Chen Kaige pointed out that the enemy of Asian civilizations is the USA, and everybody combined to fight and killed the Duke at the end of the movie.  Huntington's clash of the civilizations got a full interpretation in The Promise.

Let me explain further that to say the people in the cities have culture is not to demean the mass of peasant brothers and sisters.  Under the dual urban/rural system since the founding of the People's Republic, the cities have continuously drained away talents from the countryside through universities and military services.  This has led to a bad consequence in which the peasant villages are depleted of talents, and therefore it is hard to have culture there.  There is also the widespread poverty, which means that very few people even have books in their homes.  In any case, my grandfather has never read Shakespeare.