The Corruptor (1999)

Chow Yun-Fat and Mark WahlbergStarring Chow Yun-Fat, Mark Wahlberg, Ric Young, Paul Ben-Victor, Jon Kit Lee, and Brian Cox.
Written by Robert Pucci.
Directed by James Foley.

Grade: C

Review by Carlo Cavagna.

Envision the following scenario: you are one of the biggest box office draws in the world, yet few people in the United States even recognize you. You emigrate to the United States when the Chinese communist government takes over your home city of Hong Kong. The film industry that made you a star has been dismantled, and you speak little English. You must now make a name for yourself in a new country, among new fans. What do you do?

Well, if you're Chow Yun-Fat, the first role you find for yourself is in a stylish, brainless imitation John Woo action picture that requires you to speak maybe twelve lines, but allows you to show off your moves: The Replacement Killers. Meanwhile, you take English lessons. For your second role, you're looking for a more respected director and a meatier, more complex role in a movie that continues to play to your strengths: The Corruptor.

The Corruptor is thematically more ambitious than The Replacement Killers, but not necessarily more successful. Writer Robert Pucci and director James Foley (Glengarry Glen Ross, At Close Range, The Chamber) don't just want to make an action pic; they seek to explore the ambiguous, difficult moral questions faced by two New York City police officers in the seedy underworld of Chinatown. When should a cop accept help from a criminal, if it allows the cop to solve more heinous crimes and save lives, but if the criminal expects assistance in return? When do the ends outweigh the means, and when do the means become so despicable that no end can possibly justify them? Chow Yun-Fat

These are interesting questions, but not new ones, and Pucci finds a disappointingly predictable way of dealing with the conflicts in the end. The movie does contain one unexpected surprise, but the story is otherwise quite stale. However, the sight of Chow Yun-Fat in an American film provides some freshness in itself. His English is better; he is more comfortable and relaxed than in The Replacement Killers, and he takes on his role with relish. He is a pleasure to watch. As usual, he is playing an antihero--a man with a stain on his soul who you want to root for anyway. Mark Wahlberg plays his rookie partner--a white cop oddly assigned to an all-Chinese-American unit. Foley does a good job of capturing the squalor of the world these two cops work in, but his action sequences are not inspired (not surprisingly, there are no action movies in Foley's background). The result is a very uneven film.

Note: The two movies that represent steps three and four in the Americanization of Chow Yun-Fat are scheduled to be released later this year. In one (King's Ransom) he will be reunited with director John Woo, the man who made him famous in such Hong Kong movies as The Killer, A Better Tomorrow, and Hard-Boiled. In the other, he will star with Jodie Foster in a remake of The King and I to be titled Anna and the King.

Review © March 1999 by AboutFilm.Com and the author.
© 1999 New Line Production, Inc. All rights reserved.

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