Red Corner

Red Corner (1997)
MGM Home Entertainment
Cast: Richard Gere, Bai Ling, Bradley Whitford
Extras: Commentary Track, Trivia, Production Notes, Theatrical Trailers

Richard Gere has been an long-time activist and outspoken opponent of the Red Chinese intrusion and oppression of foreign territories, especially in Tibet. Being a celebrity has helped him direct more public attention to the problems and the schemes of the oppressive Chinese communists. It was only a matter of time until Gere used movies as a medium to point the finger at Chinese suppression of human rights. "Red Corner" is that movie. It openly accusing the Chinese system – an excellent reason to take a closer look at this drama by director Jon Avnet.

Jack Moore (Richard Gere) is an entertainment attorney counseling a huge American television conglomerate. He takes a business trip to Peking to sign the first satellite communications deal that will allow broadcasting of western TV programs in China. After a long day of negotiations he celebrates in a nightclub and meets an Asian beauty and after some more champagne he finally takes her to his hotel for the night.

He is awakened roughly the next morning, when officials arrest him for stabbing the girl to death. She is dead on the floor and Moore is escorted to prison. Handicapped by the language barrier and unable to understand the way Chinese authorities function, he finds himself in a predicament he can’t talk himself out of. There seems to be no such creature as a not-guilty plea in the Chinese judicial system, and Jack is horrified to learn from his attractive court-appointed attorney Shen Yuelin (Bai Ling), that 99% of all cases going to court for capital offense are sentenced guilty, with the prisoner executed within a week. Shen cannot help Jack and advises him to plead guilty, hoping for leniency for his confession. Jack overrules his attorney and starts to challenge the judge’s authority, pulling Shen with him in the wake. Together they try to prove Jack’s innocence in a court that has already predetermined guilt and the sentence for its foreign prisoner. A race against time and the authorities begins with the price being Jack’s life and Shen’s career.

"Red Corner" looks like it was shot in China, though it was, in truth, reeled on some Hollywood studio back lots. Richard Gere was denied access to China for his active support of the Dalai Lama and his open criticism of the Red Chinese Government, forcing the filmmakers to re-create the streets of Peking artificially. The shots that show Gere in front of some Chinese landmarks were special effects shots with Gere superimposed over clean background plates. Authentic footage from Chinese executions is used in the film to enhance the film’s credibility and make us believe we are actually there, dramatically emphasizing the imminent danger. Richard Gere gives a good performance as the slick and self-assured attorney who believes he can take on even the Chinese judicial system. His performance is vibrant and strong, but the biggest problem tends to be the character he is playing itself. If he really were the best negotiator the West has to offer China, as he is presented to us in the film’s beginning, he would have to know a little more about the Chinese culture, etiquette and the taboos inherent there, as well as certain social and cultural ethics. At least, he would not lose all his diplomatic skills once he sets foot in the courtroom. As a transfer of the typical American hero, Jack Moore gets away with anything, and does not even have a clue when he crosses cultural lines with impunity. He isn’t even aware of the fact that his attorney’s career is at stake when he runs from the authorities during a day parole she vouched for. Of course, the American also becomes the catalyst in Shen Yuelin’s life, opening her eyes to the threat of the communist system… as if the intelligent, educated attorney needed the Westerner’s self-satisfied prattling to come to this realization. This is a typical Hollywood cliché that has been overused to the point that it hurts. Can’t Americans just be human beings, instead of super heroes all the time? This complacency destroys some of the movie’s charm, a charm carefully built with the intricate set and production design, and only motives make characters believable. The biased presentation of Chinese officials and the sheer glee they take in humiliating and torturing Western prisoners is a little over the top. Just like "Seven Years In Tibet", this film doesn’t dig deep enough to make a true political statement. The more I see, the more I think that maybe it is impossible for someone who has not experienced communist oppression and creation of opinion to adequately understand and reflect all its implications.

"Red Corner" is a release by MGM Home Video and although the film itself might exhibit some inconsistencies, the disc does not. It is an exemplary release, showcasing all the merits of the DVD format to their fullest. The film has found a meticulous transfer to the disc in an <$16x9,anamorphic> <$PS,widescreen> version without speckles or other signs of wear. The image is sharp and well defined with an enormous lot of detail. Much of the film is shot under difficult interior lighting conditions In the courtroom and the murky prison cell, and it becomes obvious under those taxing conditions how well produced this DVD is. There is no hint of <$pixelation,pixelation> to be found and the picture maintains all its shadow details even in the darkest of scenes. As you would expect from a quality release like this, there is not a sign of color bleeding, nor smearing of <$chroma,chroma noise>.

The film’s soundtrack has been converted to a dynamic <$5.1,5.1 channel> <$DD,Dolby Digital> soundtrack for both the English and the French language version, making the most of the film’s dramatic, grave music score and the well designed sound effects. The disc also contains English captions, as well as French and Spanish subtitles. Together with the film’s theatrical trailer, production notes and a <$commentary,commentary track> by director Jon Avnet, this disc makes a nice package.

All in all, "Red Corner" is an entertaining piece of typical Hollywood film making. It doesn’t really have a lot to say, but what it does say, it says with enjoyable conviction. The exotic Chinese setting makes up for much of the story’s shallowness and keeps the viewer intrigued. Don’t expect to learn much about communism and its fatal effect on China’s people or other parts of the world. This film is pure Hollywood. Put on the right mindset for this film and you won’t be disappointed. It is an enjoyable and interesting movie, but not much of a history lesson.