The Corruptor

on March 12, 1999 by Wade Major
   More intelligent yet less vigorously stylized than "The Replacement Killers," "The Corruptor" marks a solid Stateside sophomore effort for Hong Kong superstar Chow Yun-fat and his ramping Hollywood career. A gritty police thriller that makes respectable use of his venerated persona, the film also benefits from better-than-average "buddy" chemistry between Chow and Mark Wahlberg ("Boogie Nights"). Die-hard Chow fans, however, may find the film something of a letdown as it still falls well short of his best Hong Kong work with directors John Woo and Ringo Lam.
   Like nearly all of Chow's most popular characters, NYPD detective Nick Chen is a tainted hero, a decorated officer whose considerable achievements have basically been bought via an under-the-table "arrangement" with local crime lord Henry Lee (Ric Young) wherein Lee gives Chen his share of headline-making busts, and Chen, in return, grants Lee latitude in which to conduct his business. But two unexpected events threaten to disrupt the arrangement: the eruption of a turf war with a brutal Chinese street gang known as the Fukienese Dragons, and the arrival of Chen's new partner<197>a young, idealistic officer named Danny Wallace (Mark Wahlberg).
   As per usual, the partnership starts off rocky, slowly solidifies, then undergoes a crisis of confidence before trust is restored in time to offer Chen's character a last shot at redemption. In a broader sense, Robert Pucci's script follows an even more formulaic roadmap, adhering rigorously to traditional genre templates, the requisite double-crosses and triple-crosses falling neatly into place at all the usual spots.
   Fortunately, Chow treats the material as though it were far better than it really is, forging a performance so compelling that it actually makes the film considerably better than it should be. Director James Foley ("Glengarry Glen Ross," "At Close Range") also helps smooth over some rough spots with some visual sizzle, including an explosive car chase through the streets of New York that ranks among the best in years. Foley's skills falter, however, when it comes to Chow's trademark shootouts, most of which seem stilted and static.
   Still, for the most part, "The Corruptor" delivers on its promises, even if it should have promised more in the first place.    Starring Chow Yun-fat and Mark Wahlberg. Directed by James Foley. Written by Robert Pucci. Produced by Dan Halsted. A New Line release. Action/Drama. Rated R for strong violence, language and sexuality. Running time: 110 min.
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