WU-JI (THE PROMISE) (2005)
Music composed and produced by Klaus Badelt.
20 Tracks (Playing Time = 72:51)
Arranged by Ian Honeyman and Andrew Raiher. Orchestrations by Robert Elhai and Jeff Toyne. Performed by the China National Symphony Orchestra conducted by Li Xincao. Vocals by Hang Yue. Violin solos by Li Chuanyun. Di Zi Flute solos by Liu Huanan. Score recorded and mixed by Steve McLaughlin. Recorded at Beijing Concert Hall, and Beijing Film Studios.
K laus Badelt’s big project for 2005 was this Chinese blockbuster directed by Chen Kaige, known here most for FAREWELL MY CONCUBINE (1993). THE PROMISE is the most expensive film ever made in China. It was originally slated to be distributed last year by the Weinstein’s but will now receive a limited US release in May through Warner. As Badelt continues to build an amazing list of film credits, THE PROMISE will likely be added to fan lists as one of this best achievements to date.
The first eight tracks are all character pieces and present the primary theme and love theme for the score. It places a succession of strong pieces that allows the listener to hear them as the disc progresses in a variety of underscoring tracks. The opening track, “Freedom of the Wa,” has a real epic sweep and features an uplifting and incessantly building vocal line. The underlying score bears resemblance to Zimmer’s for THE LAST SAMURAI (2003). The structure of Badelt’s thematic ideas is perhaps the most similar of the characteristics gathered from his colleague/mentor. That he does not instead follow the sound of Tan Dun is a good call. What makes THE PROMISE score interesting is the melding of Chinese instruments and sounds into the Hollywood style of orchestral sound. The string writing is really exquisite and beautifully recorded which lends tremendous power to the “Love Theme.” Goldsmith fans may find a hint of the master’s voice in “Guangming, the General,” which features an apt military theme and hint at an action cue. All of this material is immediately engaging and creates a semi-tone poem outlining the story. Badelt focuses very well creating Chinese-sounding melodies but these are writ large in a very European art-house style. There are plenty of times when one discerns Zimmer’s sound, but Badelt has an approach that matches this with orchestration that is more colorful and varied overall. There is also more contrapuntal variety in his music which allows for more musical development on a number of levels. It works to great effect as a score that should be of interest to fans of epic film music.
As the disc moves toward more extensive tracks all the elements laid out in the earlier character pieces come together in fascinating ways as the various themes weave in and out of the texture. The stunning orchestrations continue to appear especially in “Snow Country” which includes Chinese vocal, solo strings to full orchestra, electronics, and ethnic instrumental colors. The mix of ambient sounds and various solo ethnic flutes is really an interesting choice that works well within the structure of the score. As the score progresses one can hear the earlier character threads battle their way through the music creating an engaging listening experience which plays out in the lengthy track, “The Robe.” The action sections are impressive because they flow in and out of other material that gives them some context. The tracks all tell a portion of the story instead of a characteristic of the story. This is what sets this score and release apart from those where we have a character theme, an action sequence, an indistinct underscoring track, and a “suite” of other music. Badelt has presented this excellent score in a way that exhibits his thematic ideas and then moves into larger scenes that allows these ideas to move in and out of the textures. As the disc plays along, the music just gets better and constantly draws the listener into its energy and emotion. Particularly touching is the recurrence of the love theme that somehow feels like an anchor to the rest of the music when it appears.
Superb has provided an insert that features stunning color stills against a black background and a package that is quite attractive. The running time is quite generous. The sound is first rate. Superb continues to be a label worth watching. And, this should create further anticipation for Badelt’s score to the upcoming POSEIDON.
--Steven A. Kennedy , 9 May, 2006
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