The Corruptor

Mar 17, 1999 at 12:00 am

"You don’t change Chinatown. Chinatown changes you," detective Nick Chen (Chow Yun-Fat) of NYPD’s Asian Gang Unit tells his idealistic partner, Danny Wallace (Mark Wahlberg), as he’s trying to keep him alive during violent exchanges between the Tongs and the Fukienese Dragons.

But the unexpected presence of a white cop in Chinatown is just a plot-advancing device, as is Chen’s "business arrangement" with the Tongs, or Wallace’s re-evaluation of familial relationships. The story — the one we really care about, the one we’ve been waiting for ever since The Corruptor’s trailer exploded on the screen — is that of an unlikely, yet profound friendship between two men.

The oldest story in the book of action movies, you will say, and — under normal circumstances — I’d agree. But not this time; not when one of those vulnerable men with guns is Chow Yun-Fat; not when all the explosions and car chases and crimes are filtered through his melancholy eyes; not when his larger-than-life character takes a bullet meant for his betrayer.

If Tarantino’s movies reacquainted us with stylized hitmen with a flair for the banal, and Wong Kar-Wai (Fallen Angels, Chunking Express) brought back the solitary steppenwolf trapped in a hyperreal world of crime, the collaboration between Yun-Fat and John Woo (A Better Tomorrow, The Killer) resulted in a new kind of hero: an elegant negotiator who, as one American critic has said, "lives between crime and the law, finds values there — friendship, loyalty, redemption — and dies for them." A modern knight destined to die alone in a happy city, the Yun-Fat character reminds us of Alain Delon in Le Samourai. And despite the moments when James Foley’s direction seems to work against Yun-Fat’s formidable energy, The Corruptor is no exception to the rule. Yun-Fat, Variety writes, "is more than a movie star. He’s a state of mind."

This reviewer’s last fantasy? That Yun-Fat — blazing Beretta in each hand — aim at the talkaholic couple in the back row, whose violent deaths, captured with affectionate precision by an unflinching camera, would bring her immense joy.

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