"You will be shot in a week, and the cost of the bullet will be
billed to your family," warns the attorney for the defense. In the
kangaroo courts in THE RED CORNER people are summarily shot unless they
confess their guilt quickly and beg for leniency.
Jack Moore, played all too coolly by Richard Gere, is an American
entertainment broker who is in the People's Republic of China to
negotiate a huge television deal with the Chinese government. After a
beautiful young woman in a nightclub invites him to bed, he is awakened
the next morning by a phalanx of troops. With blood all over him, he
is arrested for the death of his one-night-stand, who turns out to be
the daughter of an influential general.
As his court-appointed lawyer, Yuelin acts initially like a
dogmatic party bureaucrat. Bai Ling plays Yuelin as a cross between
Hercule Poirot, Joan of Arc, and Patrick Henry. Although at first she
insists on pleading her client guilty even if he refuses, she changes
his plea to not guilty and begins pulling one rabbit after another out
of the hat as she unearths clues.
All of this sounds better than it is. The script by Robert King
(CUTTHROAT ISLAND and SPEECHLESS) and Ron Koslow (LAST DANCE) is unable
to create any credible supporting cast. Other than the two leads,
almost all of the Chinese are sinisterly evil and the Americans
incompetently duplicitous. The script parades so many minor characters
past us that we need a scorecard to keep them straight. All are drawn
in caricature, and none have any depth. (One hint to the befuddled
viewer. The merely bad Chinese wear military uniforms, but the most
nefarious are those Chinese in expensive Western suits.)
Jon Avnet's direction does not alleviate any of the confusion
created by the jumble of the narrative. Watching the film is rather
like trying to make out what two characters are doing as they weave
their way through a blizzard. The story seems intent on making strong
political statements, exactly what they mean is less clear. It would
appear that the film stands foursquare against brutality, but most of
the subtext remains murky. This much is clear: Jack was framed by
powerful forces, and his eminent demise is merely a piece of some
cabal's larger plans.
If the characters were more genuine or the story more plausible,
one could more easily be moved by Jack's mental and physical torture.
The scenes are stagy even if the settings are genuine. And the movie
keeps testing how far we are willing to go in suspending disbelief. My
favorite improbability occurs when the police state gives Jack a day
off from the trial so he can go to his attorney's house to plan his
defense. They end up going all over town, albeit with guards, to track
down the clues. Oh, and did I mention that Jack first asks his
attorney to demonstrate her skill as a musician? One minute Jack is
worried about his execution, and the next he is much more concerned
with the well being of his attorney.
Copyright © 1997 Steve Rhodes