On one side you have The Replacement Killers; the other side you have L.A. Confidential. Right in the middle is The Corruptor.
One type of film that won’t ever die is the crime thriller. Far from going out of style, the genre has been bolstered lately by some foreign directors like John Woo. Importing his Hong Kong hyper-violent dramas, he’s reinforced an already gun-saturated culture with more chic weapon-toting antiheroes.
The Corruptor was directed by James Foley, who also brought us the bleak Glengarry Glen Ross and even the neurotic “Twin Peaks” TV series. He also directed a psychological thriller called Fear with Mark Wahlberg. He was apparently impressed with Mark’s acting, because he’s back in Foley’s recent police drama. The truly amazing part about Corruptor is that it was not produced by the infamous John Woo, despite having that distinct look about it. Woo is responsible for the Nicolas Cage/John Travolta Face/Off, Christian Slater’s Broken Arrow, and Jean-Claude Van Damme as a Hard Target. Out of the director’s chair, he produced The Big Hit (also with Wahlberg) and The Replacement Killers.
These two films have been marketed as being similar, so we’ll take a look at them together.
- Chow Yun-Fat
- John Woo class of stylish violence
Both Killers and Corruptor star the Hong Kong phenomenon Chow Yun-Fat. From what I understand, he’s like a Clint Eastwood or Arnold Schwarzenegger over there; in short, the mega-star. That being the case, right away a movie with this kind of star power somewhat slates his movies into a particular genre. Not necessarily bad, but certainly predictable.
Such is the case with Killers. Yun-Fat plays hitman John Lee who takes an assignment to whack a cop’s son. The hit is for Chinatown drug lord Terence Wei, who seeks revenge for the death of his own son in a botched drug deal at the hands of this cop. Of course our noble savage can’t pull the trigger, despite being a ruthless killer for hire, so Wei puts a hit out on Lee. Caught in the middle is Meg Coburn (Mira Sorvino) as a hapless forger. Lee enlists her help with forging a passport so he can get back to his family in Shanghai, fearing Wei’s international reach.
What follows is scene after stylish scene with big guns, lots of blood, and large body counts. Woo and his director, Antoine Fuqua (a name I’ll likely never forget), do a great job with the cinematography. Fuqua is a long-time music video director and it shows. There’s a very hip look to everything, especially the opening sequence in which Lee enters a dance club (of course) to make a very public hit on some thugs. There’s ample use of cool slo-mos of Lee slithering through the gyrating crowd like a predator on a hunt. And then the mayhem begins, all to the tunes of the Crystal Method, whose sales promptly jumped with the movie’s release.
Corruptor is similar. Nick Chen (Yun-Fat again) is head of the Asian Gang Unit of the NYPD. Danny Wallace, a white rookie, recently joins the detail to “clean up Chinatown.” He quickly experiences resistance to his good intentions and the sometimes moral ambiguities of fighting crime on the streets. Wallace and Chen question the ethics of the “ends justifying the means,” especially with powerful mob bosses lending them favors in return for protection of their “interests.”
- Chemistry between characters
- Relevance of plot
Where the two films really differ is in the chemistry between the character duos. Sorvino and Yun-Fat just didn’t click together in Killers. Perhaps because it was his first domestically made film. Whatever the case, Wahlberg and Yun-Fat actually make for sympathetic characters in Corruptor. Yun-Fat is finally the charismatic actor from Hong-Kong everyone says he is. He’s quirky and unpredictable here, very comfortable in front of the camera, making it tough for Wahlberg to get any equal screen time. The two forged a pretty convincing dynamic.
The second major difference between Killers and Corruptor is the depth of their subject matter. With Killers, what you see is basically what you get. The audience doesn’t have to invest any of their thought processes; it’s simply semi-good-guy who at least has a heart of gold versus the really bad guys who are killing cops and dealing drugs. No-brainer.
Corruptor goes a lot deeper. Internal Affairs, inner police corruption and the like are the plot lines here. Not easy topics.
I actually don’t have a problem with Corruptor‘s aspiration to be a relevant cop drama. About 75% of its script is a serious story about real cops and the moral dilemmas they face as the enforcers of law on the streets. In this regard, Corruptor tries to be a Serpico or Copland.
Still, I just don’t see how Foley can have it both ways. For instance, between contemplations of personal loyalty and honor of police code (“You can’t change Chinatown, boy; Chinatown changes you.”), there are the stereotypical Woo-esque gun fights with near infinite rounds of ammunition.
Our hero Chen is solely responsible for about a dozen deaths in this movie. But what kind of real cop destroys an entire store, executing the bad guys point blank, and chases a squad car through city streets destroying everything in its path? Understand that in most Woo movies, the viewer has to accept these over-the-top visuals and suspend critical thinking. That’s why I wasn’t terribly disappointed with Killers because it really didn’t try to be something that it couldn’t be. Not so with Corruptor.
Realize that I’m not judging Corruptor for it’s unbelievable stylized violence. I’m also not judging it for its thoughtful portrayal of police corruption. It’s the blending of the two that didn’t set well with me. In this way, I almost like Killers more because it was really just one movie. On one side you have Killers; the other side you have L.A. Confidential. Right in the middle is Corruptor. If asked about Corruptor, I’d have to say I liked its serious stab at the inner workings of law enforcement, but I’d also have to say that the remaining silly gun play and speeding car scenes only defeat the purpose.