Movies & Videos
Navigation Bar
Navigation Bar

    Related Item
'Corruptor': Big Fun in Little China

By Desson Howe
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, March 12, 1999

  Movie Critic

The Corruptor
Mark Wahlberg and Chow Yun-Fat are partners against crime in "The Corruptor." (New Line Cinema)

James Foley
Chow Yun-Fat;
Mark Wahlberg;
Ric Young;
Jon Kit Lee;
Elizabeth Lindsey;
Byron Mann;
Andrew Pang
Running Time:
1 hour, 51 minutes
Contains violence, obscenity, nudity and drug use
In "The Corruptor," the Americanization of Chow Yun-Fat is proceeding smoothly.

The erstwhile Hong Kong superstar, now working stateside, is slowly planing the foreign woodenness from his tough English patter. And if presence counts for anything, the Chowster has it in bundles. With a blazing gun in each hand, drilling punks full of bullets, he brings an almost gentle disposition to the task. He brings a charming bedside manner to brutality.

Mark Wahlberg, who plays his rookie partner, brings something piquant to the mix as well. Together, they are the Asian matinee idol and the back-streets punk-fresh from those graphic displays in "Boogie Nights." This kind of lineup is vital for a movie that will win no prizes for originality, dialogue or positive depictions of Asians but makes no bones about its intentions: maximum volume, maximum aggression, maximum cool.

Case in point: the opening scene. A store in New York's Chinatown. People walking up and down the streets. KABOOOM!!! Major ear-splitting din from every speaker in the theater. Slow-motion footage of stunned owner running out and falling to sidewalk. Chinese gangsters, hair dyed, attitudes even more toxic, approach the prone body and riddle him with semiautomatics. Tough town.

Nick Chen (Chow), a gold shield detective in the 15th Precinct's Asian Gang Unit, is in charge of this territory, riven by a gang war between the Tongs, headed by Henry Lee (Ric Young) and the Fukienese Dragons.

But as he busts into gambling nooks and beats information out of gangsters, Nick also maintains questionable links with Lee, a businessman with the kind of unctuous, ingratiating manner that will get you work on a James Bond picture every time.

Nick is surprised to be partnered with Danny Wallace (Wahlberg), who seems a little too green and white to be infiltrating Chinatown. But Danny shows his mettle soon enough, plugging riffraff and ignoring the sarcastic remarks of the Asian Gang Unit.

It isn't long before Danny gets seduced by this morally dubious world, where the good guys are barely better than the scum they arrest.

"Corruptor" is considerably richer than Chow's first American flick, "The Replacement Killers." He showed his potential then; he blooms now. Director James Foley, who also made the atmospheric "At Close Range," "After Dark, My Sweet" and "Glengarry Glen Ross," creates some jarringly entertaining set pieces. There's a bloody shoot'em-up in a lamp store full of falling bodies and tinkling glass. There's a blitzkrieg ambush in a prostitute's den where Nick busts through drywall to deep-six the bad guys. And Danny busts up a porno shoot just to show that he, too, can ratchet up the body count.

But the movie gets convoluted in its latter stages, with cliched twists and turns. Screenwriter Robert Pucci won't let up on the Chinese Thing. His worst moment: When Danny gets sick at the sight of a murdered Asian hooker in a trash bin, an Asian detective (Andrew Pang) retorts, "I thought you liked Chinese food." Oh, real nice, Bob.

Which makes you grateful for the performers tweaking the hell out of their performances. Wahlberg exudes a preening, but appealing quality, his buffed physique undercut by an almost geeky shyness. And Chow is always looking for mannered moments with an unexpected cackle here, a wild-eyed expression there. You're not going to go home stunned by artistry after watching this, especially with such howlers as: "You don't change Chinatown. It changes you." But if you're in the mood for loud, fast-moving action trash, "The Corruptor" is waiting to meet you in a dark alley.

© Copyright 1999 The Washington Post Company

Back to the top
Navigation Bar
Navigation Bar