Martial arts expert Detective Nick Chen (Chow Yun-Fat) teams up with his colleague Danny Wallace (Mark Wahlberg) to keep several gangs in New York City's Chinatown from annihilating each other. They must contend not only with the increasingly power-hungry gangsters, but also with the temptation of bribery and corruption as the bad guys divide and conquer the police forces. In what's beginning to seem like a losing battle, Chen and Wallace struggle to establish law and prevent more bloodshed.
Man, the late 90s was quite the era for Chow Yun-Fat and American Cinema. I remember getting so excited after seeing 'The Replacement Killers', and subsequently binge watching movies like 'The Killer' and 'Hard Boiled' to get me really excited for the release of 'The Corruptor.' The trailer looked cool as hell, you have Yun-Fat blowing away random guys with really big guns, the promise of an intricate crime thriller story, and that Wahlberg guy was pretty good in 'Fear.' Once the projector at the movie theater I worked at started rolling and the lights dimmed, my excitement didn't last very long.
New York City's Chinatown district has more than a little bit of a crime problem. Two rival gangs vie for control over the organized illegal activities the likes of drugs, gambling, and human trafficking. On one side of the war you have Old Time stalwart crime boss Benny Wong, Kim Chan, and on the other side you have upstart Henry Lee, Ric Young, who is looking to expand his empire. Caught in the middle is police detective Nick Chen, Chow Yun-Fat. Nick is a dedicated cop who is doing everything he can to keep the peace, while at the same time owing a significant debt to Henry Lee. After a deadly bombing that killed a tourist, NYPD aims to crack down by adding more man power to the task force. Enter green police officer Danny Wallace, Mark Wahlberg.
Nick is furious with the new addition to the team in part because he's white and completely useless for undercover work, but also because there is now a new threat to Nick's side dealings with Henry Lee that he'd rather not take the rap for. Nick is reluctant to bring Danny along on any real busts preferring to keep him at arms length. Henry Lee on the other hand has other ideas. In Danny, he sees the perfect opportunity to expand his hold on the police department by providing the young officer some additional funds to help pay his father's gambling debts. Lee also throws Danny a big bust as well as a few other perks that Internal Affairs and the FBI wouldn't entirely be okay with.
While everyone assumes Danny is just a simple new recruit with his first big assignment, the young officer is in fact an undercover Internal Affairs detective investigating the precinct, in particular the activities of Nick Chen. As Danny earns the respect of Nick and he is taken deeper into the Chinatown underworld, the young officer begins to understand a life he previously judged from afar. His new understanding of life's grey areas rubs against his current assignment with life-threatening results.
One of my biggest problems with this movie, and it's one that I felt during my very first viewing, is that it feels like what people who have never seen a Hong Kong action movie assume those stylized action flicks look like. From frame one, everything just feels off, from the shooting style with hyper zooms and cuts, to the never-ending barrage of bullets, to Chow Yun-Fat feeling like he's doing an imitation of himself. Cutting, panning, and zooming cameras are fine if there is a point to it all. In 'The Corruptor' it just feels messy and done just to look edgy.
Then you have Mark Wahlberg and his character Nick. While he can deliver a decent performance here and there and can be genuinely funny, in this movie he's just bland and acts as if he's bored rather than brooding. Perhaps the most irritating aspect of this movie is that it has a 'Dances With Wolves' "white guy saves the day" problem. Where 'Dances' at least shows it's lead character altering his beliefs and working to understand a people he'd never encountered, Wahlberg's Danny is just a throw away. Sure, he knows Chinese, or rather he speaks one line of dialogue in Chinese, but he does little else to bridge the culture gap. One minute he's saving women from human trafficking and the next he's willingly and happily sleeping with exploited Chinese women because "it's part of the job." Ultimately it never should have been his story we follow as he makes no attempt to understand the culture and only exploits the perks of his near legally untouchable position making him no better than the men he aims to take down.
Next, you have this intricate crime saga in the making that is brought down by way too much plot for such a thin story premise. You have entirely too many nameless characters betraying each other with way too many faceless cops and FBI guys to feel any sort of connection to the main characters. As an audience we should worry about the path the lead characters are taking and worry about how they're going to save themselves after effectively selling their souls to the devil, only we don't really get to know these guys in a meaningful way to care. And Yun-Fat and Wahlberg have zero chemistry together. Supposedly much of the story was based off of actual events in New York City, but somehow everything just feels fake and made up. Not to harp on the guy again, but Walhberg just didn't need to be in this movie. His character isn't the source of a meaningful dramatic arc - Yun-Fat's is. Had it just been Chow Yun-Fat riding solo, 'The Corruptor' could have been a vastly different and perhaps better movie.
Then you have the tone of this movie. Is it an over-the-top action movie? Is it a 'The Godfather' styled crime saga about lust, betrayal, and revenge? Unfortunately for 'The Corruptor' it tries to be all of these things at any given moment and fails to scratch the surface of anything. If it was just a crazy action movie with gratuitous gun battles and the infinite ammo cheat code turned on, it could have been a blast. If it had aimed to become a restrained crime story about a Chinese mobster and a tainted detective, it could have been the source for some compelling drama. Instead we get the instant microwave mashed potatoes version of both movies that has a familiar taste and texture, but just doesn't sit right in the end.
At the helm of this feature is Director James Foley. Foley has numerous feature film credits to his name but few if any have amounted to much at all. In the years since 'The Corruptor' Foley has thankfully found some solid footing in television as a director on NBC's 'Hannibal' and Netflix's 'House Of Cards.' TV is good for him, he seems a natural fit for expanded story telling in hour long increments. I get what he was trying to do with 'The Corruptor,' but he was trying to do way too much other stuff at the same time to make a compelling film.
The Blu-ray: Vital Disc Stats
'The Corruptor' makes its Blu-ray debut thanks to Warner Bros. pressed on a BD50 disc. The disc opens to the main menu featuring a static image with Carter Burwell's score playing in the background.
For a movie that is barely 15 years old, 'The Corruptor' makes for an okay Blu-ray with its 2.35:1 1080p HD transfer. For the most part things look pretty good. Black levels and shadows are nice and even letting the image enjoy some depth even though much of the time the film looks flat. Colors have plenty of pop to them while letting flesh tones look natural and even - never too pink and never too pale. Detail is strong throughout as film grain retains an ever so subtle presence.
There are some annoying compression artifacts in the form of aliasing, banding, and the wonderfully crunchy-looking edge enhancement. Mind you, this isn't the worst of these instances I've ever seen, especially in a catalog title - that honor sadly goes to 'Tremors.' But at around 1:05:24 - whoa is that some banding! Granted its an aerial shot and those tend to be problematic, but the strobing flicker effect is kind of shocking. It's also odd that this movie was pressed on a BD50 disc and yet barely occupies 32 total gigs of data - that's a lot of digital real estate that could have been used to fix these compression issues, however slight they may be.
With all of the gunfire and Carter Burwell's score - 'The Corruptor' rocks its DTS-HD MA 5.1 track. This is a powerful mix that really works the surround channels to push you into the atmospherics. From gunshots to screeching tires to angry screams and shattering glass; you'll love the imaging this track has to offer. Thankfully the levels are also nice and even here as well. Even when things get really loud, they don't overpower dialogue and things never get so uncomfortable as to force you to lower the volume. Even during the quieter personal moments, there is just the right amount of ambient noises to keep the track feeling alive. Free of any artifacts or anomalies, 'The Corruptor' gets high marks for this audio track.
Audio Commentary: Director James Foley rides this one solo as he talks about the filming experience, the rating process, and the film's reception. Clearly this was recorded shortly after the movie was screened for critics, Foley is entirely too bitter at times, coming off very whiney and sounds like a guy that has had a hard time taking criticism even when it's warranted and constructive.
From the (Under)Ground Up: The Making of The Corruptor: (SD 46:06) This is a collection of behind the scenes features that was perviously available on the DVD and hasn't undergone any kind of a remaster as they're framed 4:3 and look very rough. They're very interesting if you're really curious about the production.
UGK "Take It Off" Music Video: (SD 4:44) This is a rather ugly looking standard definition video. There is also a constant hum playing throughout.
Original Trailer: (SD 1:54) I watch this and I remember what got me excited about the movie all those years ago. Another case where the trailer was better than the end result
I was hoping time would be a key factor in helping me re-evaluate and ultimately appreciate 'The Corruptor' better than I did seeing it all those years ago in the theater. Sadly, time has only made things worse for this movie in my opinion. I've seen so many better crime movies in recent years and this film's cast and crew have gone on to do so many better projects that this movie feels like a time capsule that people forgot they'd buried over a decade ago. Almost like looking in a yearbook and seeing your horrible dress sense. I know this movie has its fans, I'm just not one of them. Fans should be happy to hear that the HD image is pretty good and the audio rocks your surround system. However, if you've never seen 'The Corruptor' keep your expectations in check when you rent it.