Published November 1, 1997
In spite of all the publicity, Red Corner is rather a roundabout apology for than a criticism of the Red Chinese regime. Richard Gere may be personally hostile to the Chinese gerontocracy, but the movie he wishes to showcase his opposition takes its politics in a depressingly familiar direction which leaves Jiang Zemin and his cronies untouched. For the real bad guys here are not so much the party hacks and bureaucrats and generals but that old Hollywood favorite, the entrepreneurial capitalist, a man who is prepared to use the corrupt Chinese system to enrich himself, even if it involves murdering and bearing false witness. Moreover, the system itself, in spite of some limitations from the point of view of Western justice, is capable of being opened up by appeals to the consciences of ruthless generals and judges who have executed thousands but who suddenly decide that it is time for the killing to stop when it threatens an American lawyer, come to China to sell, by his own admission, “pornographic, violent and superstitious” TV programs.
Gere plays the lawyer, Jack Moore. He tries to sell the Chinese authorities on his company’s satellite system by the ludicrous claim that, although the programming it will bring in is trash, watching the trash will actually “discourage the pursuit of Western values.” This may be meant to seem a clever sales ploy (what suckers, those Chinese!), but Jack gets a moral education when his best Chinese friend, a member of the governing élite who is secretly taking kickbacks from his German competitor, has him framed for the murder of a bar girl—who also happens to be the daughter of a high ranking general. Jack then gets to appeal theatrically for justice, in spite of torture, lies and skullduggery, to a Chinese court which never quite manages to live up to its “Kafkaesque” billing and to fall in love with his court-appointed attorney, the delectable Bai Ling.
That will make those Chinese butchers think twice!
Not only does the anti-business bias of Hollywood politics prevail over the unfamiliar anti-communist surtext, but Bai Ling even adds a feminist dimension when she claims (and who could doubt her?) that she hasn’t got a boyfriend because “I have been unable to find a man who is not threatened by a woman’s intelligence.” She also dumbfounds the poor American by telling him that, because “we hold the interest of the state above that of the individual,” the Chinese crime rate is one tenth the American. And the Chinese infant mortality rate is lower too. The first of these statistics is meaningless, merely showing what is possible if you are willing to execute or torture even petty criminals, and the second is untrue, but poor hang-dog Jack has no answer for her. “How many people are killed each weak in your ‘peaceful’ country?” she taunts him.
He can only stammer, “Too many.”
See there? Hollywood has always known that the Commies were onto something!