Film Review


"Red Corner"

directed by Jon Avnet

(MGM-UA, 1997)

Chalk it up to cosmic coincidence - or a bad bottle of karma.

Somehow both Richard Gere and Brad Pitt thought October '97 was ripe for a little anti-Chinese propaganda, Hollywood-style. Gere's "Red Corner" was to be a labor of love; Pitt's " Tibet," a free ticket to credibility.

"Saving Tibet [from the Chinese] is saving the best part of ourselves," Gere told the San Francisco Chronicle. "That's the way I've always seen it. When I'm saving Tibet, I'm saving that part of me that is dissatisfied and unhappy and sees injustice and misery."

"Who cares what I think China should do?" Pitt told Time magazine. "I'm a fucking actor! They hand me a script. I act. I'm here for entertainment, basically, when you whittle everything away. I'm a grown man who puts on makeup."


                            October 1997




Well, when you're right, you're right. Pitt's "Tibet" is just what you'd expect from a man of shallow devotion - sentimental Hollywood trash. But who would have guessed Gere's "Red Corner" is, truth be told, much the same.

A film which stands firmly at first as a bold indictment of human rights abuse, "Red Corner" quickly slouches its way to enough sog and mush to shame the Crispix people. Undoubtedly it will go down as Gere's worst career move since his divorcing Cindy Crawford.

The plot centers on Jack Moore (Gere), a womanizing TV executive who comes to China to negotiate a multi-million dollar deal, only to end up at a local club, seducing an attractive model. After a night's romp of swapping fluids, Moore wakes up to find the girl's head severed and his fingerprints on the murder weapon. It's a corrupt Chinese cop's field day as Moore is soon railroaded through a system that knows no justice or humanity. "Leniency for those who confess," runs the state's motto, "severity for those who resist." The executive is subsequently handcuffed, beaten, electrocuted, and - in a great touch of class - forced to eat out of a bowl dipped in feces. At last, when things could get no worse, Moore's public defender (Chai Ling) shows up and, without consulting him, pleads him guilty.

In the inept hands of director Jon Avnet - the great mind behind such ingenious entertainments as "D2: The Mighty Ducks" and "D3: The Mighty Ducks" - the drama of the plot's twists and turns is drilled home with the force of a blunt spoon. That's because all human emotions have been neatly cleaved from the story. Fear, anger, pain? Don't look here. Gere's executive takes a licking and comes back scene after scene - intrepid, resourceful and well ironed. Later, in one of the film's most unlikely plot contrivances, Ling's defender becomes enraptured by Gere's immeasurable charm and does a 180 degree turn, defying the court to become a crusader for his cause. Yet never once does she pause, apprehensive of violent retribution. It's as if Avnet gave up on developing his characters' humanity and decided instead to make them bland symbolic markers. "Red Corner" courses with such people: faceless, unmotivated bureaucrats, embassy personnel, army officials, and main characters.

In the end it's a dose too much Hollywood hokum to swallow. The screenplay by Robert King abandons the enthralling starkness of the Chinese torture chambers and exchanges them for the run-of-the-mill bustling of Hong Kong 's back streets, through which Gere makes a comical escape jaunt. He's like Aladdin evading the Sultan - ducking and dodging, leaping and hiding - except Gere seems markedly less interesting and surprisingly less human. Soon after, King's human rights plot is sacrificed whole for more mundane purposes: a Perry Mason-esque "shocker" and a little romance between Defender Ling and Guess Who.

As the heart of the film begins to disappear through the haze of this lesser fare, it becomes clear where Avnet, Gere and company went wrong. They dove headfirst for entertainment value when they should have been digging for substance. Only a sober, rigorous account of the inmate experience could have been an indictment with sting. As it is, "Red Corner" will come and go within a few weeks.

And no one will be more disappointed than Gere himself. A devout Buddhist and vocal activist for Tibetan freedom, Gere timed the release of his film to coincide with Chinese leader Jiang Zemin's Washington visit. On the street outside the White House he stood, with a host of angry protesters, hoisting picket signs and scratching for media attention.

But to gain a world-wide audience, he'll need a film to do the talking for him. And nothing as watered down as "Red Corner" will do.


- Joshua Kors



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