"You don't change Chinatown, Chinatown changes you"
Chow Yun-Fat (Hard Boiled, Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon) is the biggest box office star in the world. Or so I'm told by countless strangers on television before they interview him. I really have no reason to doubt this, or anything else I see on TV for that matter, but the American audience watching these interviews might have reason to doubt the above statement if, for no other reason, that Chow Yun-Fat has only appeared in three Hollywood films. I'll point out, according to his filmography, that Yun-Fat has appeared in just about every film ever made in Hong Kong (but that's just a rough guess). After conquering the Asian box office, he arrived in Hollywood just like every other young, wannabe actor with the hopes of finding that one big break that will launch them to stardom. Instead, he made The Replacement Killers. Chow Yun-Fat rebounds nicely, however, with The Corruptor.
Facts of the Case
Nick Chen (Yun-Fat) is a veteran, decorated detective in New York's Chinatown, assigned there amongst other Asian cops to keep the lid on the out-of-control gang violence perpetrated by the Fukanese Dragons. Enter Detective Danny Wallace (Mark Wahlberg—Boogie Nights, Three Kings) who, as you have probably already guessed, is white, which is a bad idea if you're working in Chinatown. Detective Chen is quick to point out, "He's worse than white, he's green." With Wallace stuck in Chen's department, Chen takes him under his wing to teach him about Chinatown, and, more importantly, to make sure he doesn't himself (or Det. Chen) killed. The lesson begins with a violent bust of a prostitution hall, where Chinese women have been indentured into the world's oldest profession in exchange for passage to America.
On a routine patrol, Chen and Wallace stumble upon a drug deal, with Wallace trying to do the right thing and break it up. This turns out to be a bad thing because this was an FBI operation. With the feds involved, life becomes more difficult for the two detectives as they try to string together their investigations while not stepping on FBI toes and also while staying away from "Uncle" Benny Wong (Kim Chan, who coincidentally was Uncle Benny in Lethal Weapon 4). Uncle Benny is the power broker in Chinatown, and it turns out he has Chen in his pockets, though Chen leaves a stern warning that Wallace is not too touched. This doesn't last long as we discover that Wallace's father is a retired dirty cop with a hefty gambling debt. To say much more than this about The Corruptor would be to ruin a well-spun, twisting plot
While The Corruptor is by no means short on action, the film stands heads and tails above others in the cop-buddy movie genre due to the unique bond that forms between Detectives Chen and Wallace. This is certainly not a friendship between the two, but a bond that two people who are in over their heads might share. Unlike in The Replacement Killers, Chow Yun-Fat is allowed to show off his extraordinary talents as an actor, but yet doesn't stray too far away from the gunplay-heavy action that has made him famous (the opening shootout in a lamp store—naturally—will leave you clamoring for more). Detective Chen is a cool-headed veteran, and Yun-Fat shines in these types of roles. Mark Wahlberg is an actor who impresses me more each time I see him on screen, and even though he hasn't picked the best of scripts at times (i.e. The Perfect Storm) his performances have always stood out. I promise I won't call him "Marky Mark" any more.
Action scenes in The Corruptor are much less numerous then I initially expected, but this lack of quantity is made up for in quality. The aforementioned lamp store shootout is impressive, the raid on the brothel has an intense, claustrophobic feel to it, and a car chase towards the center of the film is one of the best I've seen—better even than those in Ronin, which is really saying something. Everything culminates in a shootout that may not be as spectacular as some of Yun-Fat's Hong Kong efforts, but it is satisfactory in every way. Director James Foley (Glengarry Glen Ross) demonstrates he has a terrific sense of pacing a nail-biting action sequence as well as handling two complex characters and their interactions with each other. This is a movie with a great deal of style AND substance.
As far as the quality of the DVD goes, New Line has once again rolled out its Platinum Series banner for The Corruptor and the results are impressive. The film transfer is a near perfect anamorphic transfer that fully displays Foley's sense of lighting and sequencing. Sound channels are clear with the surround sound being properly utilized.
The special features on this DVD are a bit of a mixed bag. The director's commentary by Foley has some decent insight, but Foley's speaking voice is a bit bland, which makes the commentary difficult to sit through. The music video is a feature I could have done without, but the shining bright spot of the disc is the "From the (Under)Ground Up," a "making of" documentary. Here we get to see some of the action scenes being filmed, as well as some insightful interviews with Foley, Yun-Fat and Wahlberg. We're also treated to details in regards to the research that went into the scriptwriting process by the writer and producer, which helps the viewer understand that maybe a lot of what is depicted in The Corruptor isn't too far from reality. The most fascinating part of this documentary is the complete unedited car chase sequence, which had to be chopped down a bit to secure an R-rating from the MPAA.
The Rebuttal Witnesses
If The Corruptor is guilty of anything, it's of being too hard-hitting. This film does not pull any punches in regards to the Chinatown underworld. As we see in the documentary, the events depicted in this film were heavily researched before the script was created, and the result is an in-your-face crime drama. Blood flies and innocent women are indentured into Uncle Benny's prostitution ring just because they wanted a better life for themselves. It isn't pretty, and Foley keeps a tough, gritty feel to the film amongst all the flash of the action. With these facts in mind this film, while terrific, is simply not for the squeamish or for those who are easily offended.
The Corruptor is a vastly underrated movie that is well-worth the time to watch, especially if you happen to be a fan of either of the principle stars, or are just looking for a well-written police/crime drama. This DVD, as a whole, is highly recommended.
Everyone involved with The Corruptor is hereby acquitted, and New Line is to be commended for once again providing a sterling example of what a good DVD should be.
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Scales of Justice
Studio: New Line
• Feature Length Commentary by James Foley
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