By Marc Savlov
MARCH 15, 1999:
D: Harold Ramis; with Robert De Niro, Billy Crystal, Lisa Kudrow, Chazz Palminteri, Joe Viterelli. (R, 103 min.)
You have to feel sorry for Chow Yun-Fat. In his native Hong Kong and under the
direction of auteurs such as John Woo and Stanley Kwan, he consistently turned in
breathtaking performances ranging from the idiot-savant of God of Gamblers to the
tragic assassin in The Killer. With the emigration to these shores of nearly 90%
of the Hong Kong film industry's key players over the last few years, Chow found
himself buoyed by rabid stateside fans such as Quentin Tarantino and others -- it
seemed his future here was as assured as it had been in the Crown Colony. His stateside
debut, The Replacement Killers, proved Chow could insinuate himself into American
action films with a modicum of ease, though with the release of The Corruptor it
has become clear that even a great actor like Chow can fall prey to bad decisions.
No one mistook Antoine Fuqua's muddled, video-centric Replacement Killers for anything
other than cheap pop glitz, and judging from the amount of unwarranted giggles emanating
from the peanut gallery during a recent screening of Foley's film, Chow is once again
the victim of a wildly clichéd script and cookie-cutter direction. Here, he
plays NYPD officer Nick Chen, the much-lauded head of the city's Asian Gangs Unit,
which keeps tabs on Tong head Danny Lee (Young) and a newly arrived Chinese street
gang known as the Fukienese Dragons, led by the peroxide-streaked Bobby Vu (Mann).
Both gang leaders are stirring up more than their share of trouble. Into this Mott
Street mess saunters Wahlberg's Danny Wallace, the first Anglo officer assigned to
Nick's beat (ostensibly in the interests of keeping the suits upstairs happy). Cocksure
and decorated, Danny at first encounters tremendous resistance from his Asian-American
counterparts who firmly believe he's out of his league. No matter that he speaks
Mandarin and knows his Triads; Danny's put through the rookie wringer as mercilessly
as any Hill Streeter ever was. When he discovers that working in Chinatown comes
at a stiff price -- mainly that compromises are as inevitable as corruption -- he
wavers and then charges full on into the muck. "You don't change Chinatown,"
warns Nick, "Chinatown changes you." Maybe it's the MSG? Less-than-clever
dialogue like that litters The Corruptor like shell-casing in a Woo spectacular,
and though Foley is adept at handling the action, the film is a grim washout peppered
with too many earnest, good-cop/bad-cop conundrums and not enough solid police work.
Even the car chases seem borrowed from some other, better film. That's not to say
that Chow has lost his Cary Grant sheen -- he hasn't, not by a long shot. But with
ultimately listless material such as this to work with, it's no wonder people miss
his HK glory days. Then again, remember this: Once he got off the boat, it took Woo
himself no less than three tries before he got it right.
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