"The Corruptor" gets off to a shaky start --literally. The over-stylized, '70s-inspired shake-and-zoom handheld cameraworkin the establishing action scenes was enough to make me wish I had a someDramamine.
The first act of the movie mostly by-the-book ganglandcop stuff, featuring Hong Kong action king Chow Yun-Fat ("TheReplacement Killers") as a hard-boiled(naturally) NYPD detective working the gang beat in Chinatown who reluctantlytakes on Mark Wahlberg ("Boogie Nights") as his inexperienced and laughablyidealistic new partner.
Early on Wahlberg and Chow, in his trademark sunglasses,slick suits and leather duster get into the kind of bystander-endangeringchases and shoot-outs that would get a real cop suspended (if not fired),but instead they receive commendations. They rough up informants, cut dealswith mafia leaders and raise the FBI's hackles by busting an undercoveroperative. They're kick-ass Chinatown gang cops who don't play by the rulesand act like a gang themselves.
For a straight shoot-em-up, this would be fine, but "TheCorruptor" takes itself awfully seriously.
But about half way through the movie funny thing happens-- the characters begin to take precedence over the action and the movieimproves ten fold.
Chow is a brilliant actor, as anyone who has seen his HongKong films (action and drama) can attest, and here he plays beautifullythe duplicity of a complexly layered and dedicated cop. He tries to lethis sense of humor shield him from the dangers of his work, but he hasfound the best way to prevent the spread of crime on his beat is to sidewith one gang (the Tongs) over another in an escalating turf war. In short,the hero is on the take.
This makes the FBI and Internal Affairs the bad guys, becauseChow is under investigation and issues of loyalty and duty weigh heavilyon the leads.
Both gangs are bad guys, too, and Chow is doomed to bedouble-crossed by his Tong compatriots.
The double-cross comes when the Tong boss (Ric Young) defiesChow wishes and drafts Wahlberg, paying off gambling debts to save hisdrunkard father's life. This in turn leads to IA breathing down the partners'necks, putting their lives at risk.
The film has a slick and polished urban look about it,and while director James Foley ("Fear," "TheChamber") has a skillful hand, large chunksof the film feel like stock footage, especially the numerous, generic transitionalshots of city skyline accompanied by the heaviest of gangsta rap.
But the character-driven second half, in which the hushbetween the action sequences is more interesting than the gunplay, sets"The Corruptor" apart.
Chow's broadly defined sense of personal ethics providehim constant internal conflict that drives the story once this conflictsurfaces, the turmoil dancing across his face even as his character triesto appear unaffected.
Wahlberg, while certainly not as impressive as Chow, becomesfar more complex through the course of the story, building to a revelationabout his character that makes the implausible boy scout routine more crediblein retrospect.
The film does end in a shoot-out, of course, on a freightercarrying illegal immigrants. But the final gunfight is not a barrage ofuninterrupted flak. Instead it consists of realistic bursts of fire betweenlong, tense stretches of intelligent cat and mouse maneuvering.
It's a reflection on the thought that went into making"The Corruptor" something more than a bullets and bad guys andit's the kind of intelligent, deeper-than-expected film Chow is famousfor. It's nice to know his Hollywood career is on the right track.
Run time: 110 mins
In Theaters: Friday 12th March 1999
Distributed by: New Line Home Entertainment
Production compaines: New Line Cinema, Illusion Entertainment Group
Contactmusic.com: 3 / 5
Rotten Tomatoes: 49%
Fresh: 23 Rotten: 24
IMDB: 6.0 / 10
Director: James Foley
Starring: Mark Wahlberg as Detective Danny Wallace, Chow Yun-Fat as Lieutenant Nick Chen, Byron Mann as Bobby Vu, Kim Chan as Benny Wong, Ric Young as Henry Lee, Paul Ben-Victor as Schabacker, Jon Kit Lee as Jack, Andrew Pang as Willy Ung, Elizabeth Lindsey as Louise Deng, Brian Cox as Sean Wallace