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Red Corner

movie reviewmovie review out of 4

All-Reviews.com Movie Review: Red Corner

Starring: Richard Gere, Bai Ling
Director: Jon Avnet
Rated: R
RunTime: 122 Minutes
Release Date: October 1997
Genres: Drama, Suspense


*Also starring: Bradley Whitford, Byron Mann, Peter Donat, Robert Stanton, Tsai Chin, Tzi Ma, James Hong



Review by Harvey Karten
No Rating Supplied

A colleague swears that he saw a picture in one of those gossip magazines featuring Richard Gere with Cheryl Crawford on one arm and the Dalai Lama on the other. Why not? No words can better sum up the Richard Gere who eats up the screen in "The Red Corner," a picture which is so cleverly digitalized that you'd swear that the action was taking place in and around Beijing's Tienanmen Square. With an opening timed to coincide with the high-profile visit of China's president, Jiang Zemin, "Red Corner" is an effective representation of Gere's views on the current Chinese regime while demonstrating that he has the highest regard for its pretty women. (The dreamily intense, socially-conscious 48- year-old actor made an impassioned plea for the sovereignty of Tibet at the 1992 Academy Awards ceremony, a year after campaigning for worldwide AIDS awareness. If you're not too clear on the connection between China's human rights abuses and the situation in its western province, see the equally politically-correct movie, "Seven Days in Tibet.")

While some films made by Chinese themselves such as "The Story of Qui Ju" more artfully criticize that country's political conditions, they cannot match Hollywood for the slick melodrama which director Jon Avnet delivers for his audience. Gere, his hair grayed over and closely cropped, is cast in the role of an businessman competing for a lucrative contract in a potentially huge market. China is undergoing radical change, some of its younger politicians eager to bring in sexy Western entertainment to replace some of the more stolid forms of diversion. Jack Moore (Richard Gere) is competing with a German executive on a plan to bring in American satellite technology to one fourth of the world's population. Seduced by a model, Hong Ling (Jessey Meng)--who seems intent on sketching Moore's long nose--he wakes up in a hotel to discover his playmate murdered and is dragged away by police.

The bulk of the story deals with Moore's unfortunate experience with the Chinese legal system and his more fortuitous relationship with his lovely, intelligent and charming attorney, Shen Yuelin (Bai Ling), who has been appointed by the court to defend him. Insisting that the best defense is a guilty plea--which would almost automatically spare him from an ignominious execution within a week of the trial's conclusion--Shen is frustrated by her client's insistence on proving his innocence.

Director Avnet allows considerable time for romantic and sentimental attachments to develop between client and lawyer. She is unmarried in a culture that considers singularity to be offensive but complains that China's one billion men are too threatened by her intelligence to ask her out. He is a widowed graduate of Harvard College and Stanford Law School, all the more desirable to Shen because he did not grow up as the pampered son of a capitalist family- -he worked his way through higher education serving at rich people's parties.

Nor does Avnet disappoint the action-adventure crowd, cramming an absurd, though heart-pounding chase as a handcuffed murder defendant rushes toward the American Embassy in a dash for sanctuary.

As in so many paranoid thrillers, the American officials are almost as villainous as the real enemy, in this case providing the businessman with little help because sensitive trade talks are under way between the U.S. and China--a clear reference to President Bill Clinton's alleged refusal to insist more strongly that China takes steps toward greater human rights in return for lucrative agreements with the States.

"The Red Corner" has its heart in the right place, even allowing its lead Chinese actress to argue that the U.S. is no paradise but rather a country with only one-sixth of China's population but with ten times its murder rate. Politically, though, the movie--from Robert King's screenplay--is whipping a dead horse since we all know by now that Communist regimes tend to be brutal, xenophobic, and reactionary. But a now mature Gere looks good on the screen and Bai Ling may even give China's premier performer, Gong Li, some heady competition. With its Casablanca-like finale, chase scenes, and political purport, "The Red Corner" is a well-made, if generally by-the-numbers, sentimental thriller, balancing the anti-Fascist agenda of a Costa-Gavras with the anti- Communist program of Jon Avnet.

Copyright 1997 Harvey Karten

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