If I were asked to give a one-line synopsis of Red Corner it would be: Perry Mason in China. Red Corner is a bad episode of Perry Mason set unnecessarily in China.
Jack Moore (Richard Gere) is a businessman in China. He is trying to sell his satellite TV programming to the Chinese government. While having a night on the town, Moore meets a beautiful model and takes her to his hotel room for a night of sex. The next morning Moore is dragged out of bed by the Chinese police covered in her blood. He is held in prison awaiting his trial, which might prove to be short since the Chinese legal system believes that leniency is given to those who confess their crimes.
Moore is assigned a Chinese lawyer, Shen Yuelin (Bai Ling), who at first believes that Moore is guilty. After some evidence is shown, she begins to change her mind about Moore. What follows is a look into the Chinese legal system and some heavy-handed preaching against China.
The problem with Red Corner is that it is a typical made-for-TV thriller that is set unnecessarily in China. The legal system that it portrays is one that is not much different from the US legal system and in some cases is much better. For example, Moore escapes from the Chinese police and runs amok in the streets of Beijing. When he is caught and brought back to the courthouse nothing happens to him. No further charges put against him, nothing. If he were in the US that would have been a different case.
Another problem with Red Corner is the uninspired script. Everything is very clichéd, especially the courtroom scenes. These scenes include everything one would expect in a typical made-for-TV court movie including: The surprise witness, the surprise revelation by the accused and the real killer spilling their guts on the stand after strong questioning from lawyers. Moreover, Gere gives a bland performance in this film and in some of the supposed high-tension court scenes it is he who fails. Whatever political beliefs Gere might hold against China, his performance in Red Corner shows none of that.
The only thing that I enjoyed about Red Corner was the performance of newcomer Bai Ling as Moore’s attorney Yuelin. Ling has a commanding screen presence and she outshines anything in this film, especially the performance of the big-budget A-list actor Gere.
What is interesting about Red Corner is seeing the extent that the filmmakers were able to make the film feel as if it were shot in China. The Chinese government did not allow the filmmakers to shoot in China for obvious reasons and the filmmakers had to resort different measures to “create” China for the film; from scale models to computer integration. These effects are rather seemless and they do make the film feel like it was shot in a foreign country.
Red Corner is an implausible and slow moving film. It tries to show the inner works of the Chinese legal system, but doesn’t accomplish it. The whole film feels like a long bad episode of Perry Mason set in a far away land that has a similar law system to that of the US. Richard Gere is supposed to carry this film but does not come close. It is new comer Bai Ling’s performance which is the highlight of this film. I cannot recommend Red Corner if you are going to see it for its story. But, if during a matinee, you have nothing better to see, see Red Corner for Bai Ling’s performance.
“Wow, the Chinese legal system is just like ours!” - audience member I overheard as I was leaving the theatre.