They tell me that Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon was specifically designed to be a wuxia film for a Western audience. Mission accomplished. Because while I've seen a fair number of films from that genre at this point, not one of them has come close to equalling CTHD in my esteem.

Part of the problem, I have no doubt, is that I just generally don't hold east Asian films in the same awe that so many film lovers in this country do. Sure, I love Wong Kar-Wai, and I've yet to see a film by Tsai Ming-Liang, Hou Hsiao-Hsien, Kim Ki-Duk, Zhang Yimou or Kitano Takeshi that I didn't at least like a little bit. But I like all of them a lot less than most people seem to.

This is the point when I admit that I didn't like Chen Kaige's The Promise [Wu ji] at all. Which is actually okay, because nobody in China did either.

Credit where credit's due: it's very pretty. This is probably due in equal measure to cinematographer Peter Pau and to the production design. It's a very colorful movie - as much so as any I've seen in recent years - and purely for the loveliness of its design, it's worth seeing in a theater on film.

But the story...and the fight scenes...and the CGI. Yes, let's start with the CGI, which might have been state-of-the-art in 1990, if we assume that they have worse computers in China than in Hollywood. An early scene shows a CGI man outrunning herd of CGI buffaloes. In Stephen Chow's Kung Fu Hustle, we saw how to do a fast man in CGI well. Here we do not. Here, we something that wouldn't have been out of place on a Playstation 1 or Nintendo 64. And of the many computer-generated backgrounds, I have only to say that in Eric Rohmer's 2001 The Lady and the Duke, the evident falsity of the backgrounds was deliberate and thematic. Here, it screams of cheapness, a fatal flaw for the most costly film in Chinese history.

The fight scenes (and let's be honest, these are the raison d'etre of wuxia films) also suffer from this horrible, horrible CGI, but they suffer more from a general lack of direction. There's no sense of the anti-gravity ballet of a film like Hero; instead it looks like people bouncing at each other and off of walls. It's almost, but not quite, parodistic.

And the plot...oh, I don't know. A girl makes a promise to gain wealth and fame and glamour at the expense of love, whereupon she grows up to be a princess (Cecilia Cheung) who falls in love with a slave (Jang Dong-Kun) while mistaking him for a general (Sanada Hiroyuki). The slave goes back in time, sort of. The general takes the princess for an idyll in the country. Something happens at the end that proves the MacGuffinness of the promise. None of it's confusing but none of it adds up to anything, either. The Chinese cut is 19 minutes longer, which I'd say would help; but again, the film is hated in its native country.

Blame rests solely on director/co-writer Chen Kaige. I wish it didn't. I've seen two of his prior films, The Emperor and the Assassin and Farewell My Concubine, and neither of them suggest he would be capable of this level of hackery. And hackery is truly what it seems to be: the film is such a mash of better ideas from better movies that I can only assume this was a cynical and deliberate attempt to make a film that would play well on the international market. That's already been done in the genre, at least once (CTHD) and perhaps thrice (Hero, House of Flying Daggers), and none of those films ended up soulless. Maybe it's best to blame Harvey Weinstein. Sure, he didn't end up distributing it (gee, wonder why), but still, he touched it. Bad Harvey! Go back to releasing Tarantino films!

Good God, does anything good come out in the summer at all?