Red Corner

Memphis Flyer


REVIEWED: 11-10-97

John Avnet's direction of the new culture-clash thriller Red Corner is just what a movie about an unjust imprisonment has to be in order to remain a thriller and not become a claustrophobic psychological study. It is dramatically crisp, fluidly paced, and it has the oblique sensuousness that has given the best of Avnet's films a certain visual intrigue. (Anything with even plain good sense would be welcome after the director's recent fiasco with Robert Redford and Michelle Pfeiffer, Up Close and Personal). In its lead roles, Red Corner has two actors who helpfully convey the story's tension of characters who seem somewhat glamorous loners and yet, at the same time, are "everyman" human beings caught in extraordinary circumstances. Richard Gere's character represents a large American communications/entertainment conglomerate about to close a deal in the shifting and shadowy landscape of Chinese business. He is framed for the murder of a well-connected Chinese model and summarily thrown into a justice system that prides itself on its harshness as a deterrent to crime and considers human rights a decadent western diversion. Bai Ling, an actor known primarily for her work in Chinese films, is the advocate appointed by the state to defend the accused. She takes on the case with the perfunctory attitude fostered by the system's presumption of guilt, but eventually not only comes to believe in his innocence but has to expose a high-level bureaucratic cover-up to prove it.

Jack Moore -- sophisticatedly bemused and attractive, a bit world-weary around his Armani frames, and ennobled by sadness (his wife and small daughter had been killed in an automobile accident several years before) -- is a role Gere has needed for some time. The actor has a limited range. Admirably, he has tried to stretch it; some of the results have been less than salutary. Gere is so distinctively a contemporary persona -- in his vocal expression, his physical carriage, even his repertory of facial expressions -- that his forays into historical drama have been among his least successful. (Remember King David and Sommersby?) Red Corner is tailor-made to Gere's strengths and allows as well a little room for growth. As he proved as far back as American Gigolo, Gere is a New Age sex symbol -- strong but gentle, respectful of women, politically liberal, soft-spoken, in possession of a mischievous smile, which he lets out on a leash almost self-deprecatingly but to no less compelling effect. In Red Corner, Moore's background and his current dilemma allow Gere to play his gentle masculinity card while simultaneously fighting for personal conscience and international justice. It's a strong performance, both thoughtful and juicy, and he is partnered beautifully by Ling in her American film debut. There is only one grating mistake on Avnet's part, a momentary relapse into "Up Close and Personal-itis": when Moore, having finally managed to escape to the safe haven of the U.S. Embassy, turns himself back over to the Chinese authorities because Ling's character has put her entire career on the line in his defense, we are inundated by some pompously architectonic camera work and a bathetic swell of Thomas Newman's soundtrack music. (The plot-line development takes a big enough tug on the viewer's suspension of disbelief without drawing such heraldic attention to it.)

Ling has tremendous dignity onscreen. We can see how Moore's initial fondness for this graceful woman would develop into a profound respect for a quietly courageous person in whose hands his fate hangs. By the last scene of the film, as if having slowly but surely developed in a photographer's darkroom, Ling emerges as a mesmerizing presence, leaving one to hope for future castings in American films. Her last line -- filled with a powerful, unresolved love for Moore, and her hope of helping to create a new China -- is likely to leave much of the audience in tears.

--Hadley Hury

Red Corner

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