Hong Kong action superstar Chow Yun-Fat is one of the most dynamic, charismatic screen presences to ever hit the screen in any country. Yet for some reason, American filmmakers have yet to figure out how to properly use him. While his stateside debut, last year's The Replacement Killers, was an enjoyable-enough no-brainer with energy to spare, it barely scratched the surface of Chow's talent. The same can be said of his latest, even more disappointing American vehicle, James Foley's talky and slow The Corruptor.
Chow is allowed to smile a bit more in The Corruptor than he did in The Replacement Killers, but the storyline is a bit more dour. Chow plays NYPD officer Nick Chen, who is in charge of policing the Chinatown beat, where he has cemented ties with a dastardly crime boss (Ric Young). When the peace is broken by a turf war, Chen is partnered with an idealistic naïf by the name of Danny Wallace (Mark Wahlberg).
This sets the stage for a serious exploration of loyalty and honor, which New Line is eager to boast in the publicity materials as being similar to Chow's collaborations with Woo. Thematically that may be the case, but despite the serious underpinnings of his work, Woo has always allowed himself some fun in the execution. The Corruptor, on the other hand, is earnest and sullen all the way through, and progresses at a snail's pace. When the scenes of talking heads give way to action--which does not happen often enough--there's no sense of urgency or excitement to the sequences. Foley and writer Robert Pucci display little to no real interest in the action element of this "action drama." They seem more concerned with the "drama," which is a problem when there are unnecessary, uninteresting plot threads such as a red-herring plot involving dead prostitutes and Wallace's relationship with his compulsive gambler father (Brian Cox).
The presence of Chow should have given The Corruptor a shot of adrenaline, yet it doesn't. Anyone who has seen Chow's Hong Kong vehicles--especially his legendary collaborations with John Woo--can easily see why the man is often revered as a god: he naturally exudes an effortless, awe-inspiring cool. Ironically, I think it's exactly this trait that gets in the way of American filmmakers. They are seemingly so caught up in their awe of him that they tend to take him too seriously. And anyone whose seen Chow's star-making films also knows that his sense of humor--his defiant refusal to take himself completely seriously--is what makes him such an appealing actor.
Take that away, and one is left with a different kind of "cool"--as in the uncharacteristically cold and rather aloof Chow seen in The Replacement Killers and now The Corruptor. In light of that, it's easy to see why Chow has yet to catch on (and, with this film, continue to have trouble catching on) with general American audiences. That's unfortunate not only because Chow and his ardent HK-era fans deserve better, but the stateside masses deserve to see just how magnetic a star--and how talented an actor--Chow Yun-Fat truly is.
RATING: ** 1/2 (out of *****)
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