Richard Gere has done it again. Already persona non grata in China (for supporting Tibet after the Chinese invasion), he's pissed them off anew with his latest movie Red Corner: an earnest political thriller set in Beijing which, not surprisingly, has already been banned there.
It has a tasty scenario, but the problem lies in the execution. Jon Avnet's direction lacks punch, while the screenplay, although clearly striving for originality, either resorts to lame dialogue about US/China differences ("And how many innocent people have died in your country, Mr Moore?") or rehashes overly familiar situations from dozens of thrillers. Gere does an adequate job with his physically challenging role (will he ever match his work in Internal Affairs?), yet is outshone by talented newcomer Bai Ling, whose sparky performance has him stealing every scene.
Red Corner is at its most effective whenever the Chinese judicial system comes under the spotlight. And, if the film-makers' allegedly accurate representation is anything to go by, it's a pretty terrifying one. Although Gere's character is brutally beaten while in custody, it's the non-physical torture that gets to you. The court hearings where he's aurally hit by a confusing barrage of Chinese and English dialects, the pristine cells where he's forced to watch video recordings of past executions and, most shockingly, when he's told the bullet used in his execution will be billed to his family - all these are powerful, thought-provoking scenes which manage to both disturb and fascinate. The rest, sadly, only ever rises to the level of a mildly entertaining, late-night time-filler.
A semi-powerful thriller let down by pedestrian direction and a lacklustre Richard Gere. Even so, newcomer Bai Ling and an unblinking stare at the Draconian Chinese legal system prevent Red Corner from being an open-and-shut case.