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Red Corner (1997)

Reviewed by Tom Ender

“Severity for those who resist.”

I watched Red Corner years ago when it first came to pay per view. It wasn’t a movie that I felt at the time I needed to see in the theater. However, after recently viewing it again, I believe it is quite a bit better than I originally thought. It has aged very well and events in the real world have made it more relevant.

Red Corner is an action/thriller murder mystery, courtroom drama set in the People’s Republic of China. It has scads of political over and under tones. Jack Moore (Richard Gere) is an American businessman in China to negotiate a satellite television deal with both the Chinese government and business people. While he is out on the town in Beijing after some of these negotiations he meets Hong Ling (Jessey Meng). They have what seems perfect chemistry and after a brief period of getting to know each other Jack accompanies her to her rather nice apartments where they get to know each other much better (rated R). Later, Jack is awakened by the Chinese police who arrest him for Hong Ling’s murder. He is covered in what appears to be her blood and alone with the dead body in the apartments where they had recently been making merry.

At this point Jack Moore gets a first hand experience of the Chinese State’s “justice” system. At first Jack is represented by an older lawyer who seems to have trouble keeping up with the events transpiring in the “people’s court.” At the time of this movie’s release much was made of  Gere’s campaign on behalf of Tibet against China, and perhaps that was a large part of his motivation for making the movie at the time. However, there really is much more to this movie than that.

Before very long Shen Yuelin (Ling Bai) assumes the job of his primary advocate. This is when the movie starts to blossom. At first she does not believe in Jack Moore’s innocence. Like most people around the world she believes that her country’s justice system works. On the other hand, Jack was trained as a lawyer in the USA. Like Shen Yuelin, he believes that his country’s justice system is the best and China’s is no good. Through a long series of well woven events Shen Yuelin and Jack come to both trust and rely on each other rather than their respective state systems. Their commitment to each other is what wins the day for them. Ling Bai is absolutely marvelous in her role. She does a tremendous job of acting and makes her character the true star of the film.

Many Americans who might have believed at this movie’s release that Red Corner showed the differences between a “corrupt Chinese system” and the very different American system may have a different view if they watch this again now keeping in mind the Guantanamo and Abu Ghraib events involving USA treatment of foreigners. There are good characters in the cast other than the protagonists from both China and America. However, both state systems in Red Corner are shown as cynical. Neither is spared.

I came away from my recent viewing of Red Corner with a better appreciation of what I believe is the best message of this film: through pursuing what you know to be the right course and sticking together with others of like mind, while speaking truth to power, individuals can succeed in their battle with the State. Of course, this is merely a movie, but if we don’t believe this message, what hope can there be?

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