movie review by
Gary Johnson


(© 1999 New Line Cinema Inc. All rights reserved.)

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The Corruptor
I keep waiting and hoping for Chow Yun-Fat to make a good American movie, and maybe he will someday, but The Corruptor isn't that movie. It's an astonishingly bad movie, filled with clichéd situations and hackneyed dialog. But it took Hong Kong director John Woo at least three tries before he made a decent American movie, so maybe we should just sit tight.

Chow Yun-Fat stars with Mark Wahlberg. Wahlberg plays an inexperienced detective who must work with an older, more experienced police detective (Chow). At first, Chow resents that a young, green detective has been forced into his crime unit, but eventually, begrudgingly, he develops admiration for the younger detective. Does that plot sound familiar? It's the basic buddy-movie police-story plot that gets reworked every few months by another Hollywood production, as in Lethal Weapon or The Rookie or Beverly Hills Cop or 48 Hours or Tango & Cash.

Chow has acted in several buddy movies of his own, with The Killer as one of the best examples. But The Killer allowed the camera to focus on Chow and his troubled past and how he tried to redeem himself. In The Corruptor, Chow's character lacks an inner dimension. He attempts to imbue his character with flashy mannerisms similar to those of the gangster he played in A Better Tomorrow. But Chow's flamboyant acting can't cover up the shallowness of his character. The movie's focus instead falls upon Wahlberg. The screenplay gives him a pat conflict with his father (played by Brian Cox). Wahlberg wants to be a good cop--unlike his father--but at what price? Wahlberg and Chow bump heads, while Chow offers trite homilies such as "You don't change Chinatown. Chinatown changes you." As Wahlberg's admiration for Chow grows, he paradoxically also begins to realize that Chow's ties to the Chinatown underworld may be compromising Chow's detective work.

This plot is so mechanical and familiar that the story never comes to life. Almost any episode of TV's Homicide is more convincing and compelling. In the crime drama genre, weak characters and stale plots are sometimes offset with imaginatively staged action sequences, but The Corruptor is filled with some of stupidest action scenes ever filmed, such as the opening scene where Chow takes on a gang of thugs in a lamp store. Of course, everything gets shattered. (This detective definitely doesn't consider the best interests of the Chinatown citizens.) He grins as he walks out of the demolished store. To be fair, that's part of the point: Chow shows little responsibility for his actions--and therefore he isn't against taking payoffs from Chinatown gangsters. But the depth of his stupidity reaches incredible heights: in one scene, he and Wahlberg conduct a gun battle with a Chinatown gang while driving through the streets of Chinatown. Dozens of passersby are wounded and killed as stray bullets cut through the crowd. With detectives like these, we might be better on our own.

Mark Wahlberg, who was so good playing a dumb porno star in Boogie Nights and a dumb hit man in The Big Hit, is horribly miscast. At this point in his career, he lacks the inner qualities to bring his character to life. He gets a set of eyeglasses with a heavy browridge to help make him seem older and more serious. But they don't help much. In comparison, Ric Young steals every scene he's in as a Chinatown crime boss. He becomes a smiling embodiment of the seductive power of evil.

Director James Foley, who helmed the excellent Glengarry Glen Ross, shows very little feel for the material. This is his first action movie and he purposefully avoids providing the hyper-kinetic action scenes so typical of Chow Yun-Fat's work with John Woo. For example, the movie's big finale takes place in a narrow passageway where movement is almost completely eliminated. But if Foley is attempting to make the action scenes more realistic, he fails his mission. His camera lovingly lingers over blood-splattered windows and walls. Ultimately, The Corruptor becomes just as stylized and artificial as the movies he tries to avoid, but unfortunately, this movie is also a whole lot less fun. Chow Yun-Fat's first American movie, The Replacement Killers, suddenly looks a lot better.

[rating: 0 of 4 stars]