In China, seeing 'Red'

October 31, 1997|By Chris Kaltenbach | Chris Kaltenbach,SUN STAFF

If Richard Gere hates the Chinese government as much as he professes for its role in Tibet -- and Lord knows, plenty of people have plenty of reasons to hate the Chinese government -- he must have had the time of his life filming "Red Corner."

A taut thriller, heartfelt romance and carefully crafted courtroom drama directed with workmanlike assurance by Jon Avnet, "Red Corner" is a manic tour of a hellish Chinese judicial system. While the film offers its share of thrills and maintains a compellingly brisk pace, it suffers from two near-fatal flaws: its ham-fisted condemnation of the Chinese legal system and its reliance on plot turns coming out of nowhere.

Gere is Jack Moore, a lawyer who's about to turn a deal opening up the Chinese market to American television (he does this by convincing Chinese officials that American TV will only buttress their argument that Western culture is beyond redemption).

In a celebratory mood, he meets a Chinese model and is seduced by her. The next morning, he's roused out of bed by Chinese police, who have found her dead in his hotel room. Her throat's been slashed, her blood is all over him, and his fingerprints are on the murder weapon.

Thrown in jail, Moore is told the Chinese legal system offers leniency for those who confess their crimes. Insist on your innocence, he's warned, and count on a swift trial and even swifter execution -- with his family being billed the cost of the bullet.

But Moore knows he didn't do it, and he insists on pleading that way -- even against the advice of his court-appointed lawyer, Shen Yuelin (Chinese actress Bai Ling, whose courageous performance may make it hard for her ever to go home again).

Gradually, and against her superiors' advice, Shen Yuelin begins to believe her client's story. His refusal to kowtow to the Chinese taps a vein of resistance within her, a vein she's been threatening to act on since being forced, as a girl, to betray her own father to the state. She and Moore fall in love, and both go to extraordinary ends to ensure the other's safety.

For all its good points -- including a frighteningly intense performance from Tsai Chin as the presiding judge -- Robert King's script relies on too many contrivances. The film also suffers from James Bond syndrome: If the Chinese want to get rid of Moore so badly, why don't they just kill him?

"Red Corner" is an engaging thrill ride of a movie. The problem is, it's more manipulative than moving.

'Red Corner'

Starring Richard Gere and Bai Ling

Directed by Jon Avnet

Released by MGM

Rated R (violence, nudity)

Sun score: ** 1/2

Pub Date: 10/31/97

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