starring Richard Gere, Bai Ling and James Hong
written by Robet King
directed by Jon Avnet
I don’t like Richard Gere, and I am rarely prone to watch his movies. He is one of those American Buddhists who go around talking about vegetarianism, the Dalai Lama, human rights in Tibet and they bore me rigid with all their silliness. He takes himself way too seriously and all I really want to see is good acting and a good story. Fortunately, Rd Corner has both of these. I am surprised that I really liked it.
At the same time, I was impressed with the Chinese setting and the portrayal of China in the movie. This film was made largely in China, ZI suppose, although I did not see anything in the credits at the end that told me so. Maybe I did not look hard enough.
For a long time I have considered Chinaa barbaric, uncivilized country; a country that his thousands of years of culture, but exactly zero years of civilization. By that I mean that it is not a country ruled by civil law and a sense of both civility and civic duty. The way that the Chinese government treated the democracy demonstrators in Tiananmen Squarein June 1989, for example, or the death of thirty million by government-induced starvation during the Great Leap Forward during the lat 1950s were not unusual at all. They were business as usual, hence barbaric. What else can we expect form godless communists? Red Corner did not change my opinion, but I was happy to see a modern, competent China and to have something new to talk about. Competence is important. Competence is sexy.
In American there is a small group of Asian or Asian-American actors who monopolize Asian roles in the movies. If you watch enough movies you can see the same names and faces again and again. You can follow their careers in the movies. James Hong is one of these. He is a good actor, and I have been sign him for over twenty years playing Chinese, Japanese and Korean roles. Another is Pat Morita of the Karate Kid movies (with Ralph Macchio), and Victor Wong from Tremors(with Kevin Bacon and Fed Ward), The last Emperor and The Golden Child (with Eddie Murphy). If you like Jackie Chan movies you can see a lot of native Chinese actors. But in American movies what you usually get is Americans (of Asian descent) playing Asians.
Red Corner is a murder suspense thriller. American businessman Jack Moore (Gere) is framed for the murder of a Chinese woman he meet at a club and has a one night stand with. She happens to be the daughter of a Chinese general. Not speaking Chinese, Jack then has to face and endure the Chinese judicial and penal system. This is a chance for the portrayal of grand culture shock between the world views of modern Americaand emerging world power China. Of course we hear the well worn excuse that China, unlike the U.S., places the good of society as a whole above the rights of the individual. I cannot help but think that this movie is yet another vehicle for certain Westerners to preach about human rights. Indeed, the fascination and preoccupation with Chinese executions by the film makers n this caser is almost a fetish.
This culture conflict comes up again and again. My favorite lines in the movie are about this theme. Jack is arguing with his court-appointed Chinese defense lawyer Shen Yuelin (Bai Ling) about how to proceed with his case. In frustration they scream at each other:
Jack: You don’t understand!
Shen Yuelin: No! You don’t understand!
Apparently, no one understands.
There used to be a time when all foreigners in American movies spoke English with what Hollywoodthought was the right accent. German soldiers spoke English. Ancient Egyptians, Greeks and Romans, too. But more and more in recent year directors have let ethnic characters speak with their own voices, with English subtitles when needed. This is something I have commented on before, and I like it because it is more authentic. This is the case in Red Corner, too. Hearing the Chinese language, and seeing Jack Moore’s struggle with it makes the film better. The Chinese was very fast and the English subtitles also had to flash by quickly. I had a problem reading them fast enough and I often had to rewind and watch the scene again.
As it turns out, Jack Moore, a television network executive negotiating broadcast rights for the Chinese market, was framed for murder by a business competitor. The lesson: business is wear. It is a very well-known principle of Japanese corporate culture. We do not rally need to see another business is war movie just to lean that many Asians think so.