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Weekly Alibi The Corruptor

By Devin D. O'Leary

MARCH 22, 1999:  Hong Kong superstar Chow Yun-Fat makes his second stab at stateside stardom (after The Replacement Killers) with The Corruptor, an often effective stab at mixing highbrow and lowbrow action movie genres.

Director James Foley (Glengarry Glen Ross, After Dark My Sweet) lends his usual reliable hand to delivering an action movie vehicle tailor-made for its suave star. The script by first-timer Robert Pucci begins in familiar enough Lethal Weapon territory. Nick Chen (Chow Yun-Fat) is a seasoned NYPD vet, one of the most decorated officers in New York's specialized Asian Gang Unit. He's currently trying to end a brutal power struggle in Chinatown between the old school Triads and a newly arrived group of punk gangsters known as the Fukienese Dragons. Unfortunately, the tough cop soon finds himself saddled with an idealistic young recruit named Danny Wallace (Mark Wahlberg). "He's not just white," balks Chen. "He's also green." Wallace doesn't fit in well with his new Chinatown beat. Seems that no one there likes talking to cops or outsiders, and Wallace is both. Grudgingly, Chen shows Wallace the ropes as they engage in a labyrinthine investigation of Chinatown's warring gangs.

The Corruptor flirts heavily with cliché from start to finish. Everywhere Chen and Wallace go, they leave dozens of dead bodies and millions of dollars' worth of destruction in their wake. Wallace's pop is an alcoholic ex-cop deeply in debt to some Italian mobsters--how ever will sonny boy pay off this debt? Chen is secretly in love with a prostitute--how ever will he help her escape this way of life? Eventually, our crime-fighting duo crosses paths with some FBI guys, who are, of course, big assholes who do nothing but hamper the investigation. Every time the film threatens to drown in its genre, however, the filmmakers pull out of their nosedive and deliver some gritty twist. The saving grace in The Corruptor's script is a juicy Machiavellian morality that floats throughout the characters. It's quickly revealed, for example, that Chow's upstanding officer is actually a corrupt cop. The only reason he's so highly decorated is because a powerful Triad chief is handing Chen all his competitors on a silver platter. Before long, Wallace is seduced into this same nasty tit-for-tat trade-off with the very criminal element he's so gung-ho to eliminate. "I wish it was neither of us," admits Wallace to Chen, "but I'm glad it's both of us."

The Corruptor's most unique element is the seductive ease with which it presents its unscrupulous behavior. These aren't greedy cops easily seduced by money and hookers (although those elements are on hand to sweeten the pot). Here we have a couple decent officers desperate to do their job, but presented with an impossible task--cracking the incredibly cloistered environment of New York's Chinatown and sifting out the absolutely ingrained criminal elements. In this shadowy, back-alley world, the only way to accomplish anything is to get some inside information. The criminal warlords are more than willing to provide damning information on their enemies, and police officers are forced to choose the lesser of two evils--letting a gambling boss slide in order to bust a white slaver, for example. It's a raw, eye-opening look at how the police profession probably functions more often than not.

As a director, James Foley has always excelled at dwelling in society's more lightless corners. He's never tackled this big an action movie before, however, and the resulting mixture of Lethal Weapon-style pyrotechnics and Martin Scorsese-style grit bears more than a passing resemblance to the glossy, high-octane crime films of Michael Mann (Manhunter, Heat). In deference to his star, Foley has effected a few Hong Kong action trappings as well. The film's opening shootout in a lamp store is a competent Xerox of Chow's best scenes in Asian hits like The Killer and Hard-boiled.

While The Replacement Killers aped the visual style of Chow's earlier John Woo-directed efforts, it had little to hold it up below the surface. The Corruptor's dense script allows Chow Yun-Fat more of an opportunity to demonstrate his skills. For starters, there's some actual dialogue. Although Chow has yet to master the English tongue, as long as he's playing a Chinese character, it hardly seems out of place to hear him speak with a thick accent. There's also enough dramatic gristle to chew between action sequences to keep Chow and Wahlberg bouncing nicely off each other's characters. (Are they enemies? Friends?) Pucci's script packs a few plot surprises too, which make the relationship between Chen and Wallace all the more intense. Occasionally, though, the script reaches for a level of complexity which will only confuse viewers. It's difficult sometimes to keep track of all the various corrupt deals, debts and murders among cops, criminals and federal agents.

The bottom line, of course, is that The Corruptor still isn't as cool a movie as The Killer. What is, though?


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