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Review: 'Red Corner' covers old ground

Stills from 'Red Corner' November 5, 1997
Web posted at: 10:54 p.m. EST (0354 GMT)

From Reviewer Paul Tatara

(CNN) -- If Richard Gere and Bill Pullman had their way, this country's preferred form of communication would be squinting. Gere is the squinting guru, of course, having done it professionally for 22 years now. (Clint Eastwood is semi-retired since converting his scrunch to just one eye in order to use a view-finder.)

Gere is at it again in his new movie, the Chinese Board of Tourism nightmare known as "Red Corner." Let me make it clear, right off the bat, that I am in no way making light of the shameful human rights record that the Chinese government has displayed over the years. However, what we have here is Hollywood's version of China's shameful human rights record, and, when it comes to shameful displays, Tinseltown sure is one to talk.

"Red Corner," about an innocent American businessman who gets framed for the murder of a gorgeous Chinese woman, is exactly what you would expect it to be -- deservedly outraged, usually (I would imagine) pretty accurate, and (also usually) pretty silly.

Gere plays Squinty Jack Moore, a guy who looks just like Richard Gere and is in Beijing to sell the local despots some of his country's lesser-quality TV shows. He's having trouble, though, because the government perceives our programming (they're looking at a "Baywatch" clone) to be simple-minded and pornographic. To establish that Jack is just after the money at this point, civil rights be damned, he agrees completely, explaining to the boys that the Chinese government could broadcast these shows to teach their people what's wrong with our democracy. He's supposedly doing this ironically, but it's one of the few things in the movie that made complete sense to me.

One evening Gere is taken to a Westernized nightclub where he meets and picks up a beautiful Chinese model. Soon they're at her apartment where they get drunk, do the hokey-pokey, and Gere wakes up with the girl's blood splattered all over his clothes. Whoops. Someone has killed the girl, and the Chinese government, not exactly inclined to pick through evidence, drags Gere away and throws him in the clink. From here on out, the movie may as well be called "Poor Richard's Almanac."

The major problem is that, Chinese locale or not, brutalizing prison inmates has been a staple of American movies since the 1930s. Then, of course, you can't exactly ignore 1978's "Midnight Express," which had Brad Davis as Richard Gere, Turkey as China, and a thumping Giorgio Moroder disco soundtrack. ("Red Corner" doesn't have one of those, but Gere got dressed-up to a real nifty one in "American Gigolo.") When you get right down to it, if you've seen one framed-prisoner movie, you've seen them all. As much as it would like to be, "Red Corner" is no different for its political indignation.

"Red Corner" movie clip. (Courtesy MGM)
video icon1.7MB/50 sec./160x120 QuickTime movie
"Red Corner" movie trailer

Gere gets the royal treatment, all right -- no bed, no blanket, no water, a stinky toilet, periodic kicks in the gut, etc. The guards even wash off his dinner plate in said toilet, then serve him some more of their runny gruel.

At first it looks like he's also going to get no trial, but in comes yet another beautiful Chinese woman. This one is a government-assigned lawyer played (rather nicely) by Bai Ling, a young actress who, in real life, bravely participated in the protest at Tiananmen Square.

It's unfortunate that she also had to participate in such a Hollywood-contrived story to get the word spread even further here in the states. In a real nod towards incredulity, Ling manages to get Gere released from his personal hell (accompanied by scary-looking guards, of course) so that the two of them can go to the crime scene and re-create situations in order to find the real killer. This from a prison system that does the dishes in your toilet. They also get to hang out at her house long enough to start smiling at each other, and Gere steps over to the piano to play a portion of "Georgia on My Mind" while wearing handcuffs. Thank God he knew something besides "Chopsticks."

Eventually, there are a couple of dramatic courtroom scenes in which our hero winds up yelling at the judge and telling everyone just where they can get off. I can't say that I blame him, but I also can't say that this would help at all, considering the uncaring approach the jailers take to handling Gere throughout the rest of the movie. By the time it's all over, the man is definitely bruised fruit.

I'm not going to tell you who killed the girl, but, let's put it this way -- it was one of the several billion Chinese locals.

"Red Corner" contains nudity, drinking, sex, violence, and inappropriate handling of kitchenware. A designer shirt also gets ruined. Rated R. 119 minutes.


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