review for The Corruptor on AllMovie

The Corruptor (1999)
by Genevieve Williams review

As a take on the familiar cop-buddy movie, The Corruptor has as many twists and turns as a Raymond Chandler novel, if not nearly as much panache -- or comprehensibility. This was Hong Kong action star Chow Yun-Fat's second American film (1998's The Replacement Killers was the first), and director James Foley gets a lot of mileage out of imitating the trademark style of John Woo -- at least, as far as the action scenes are concerned. The first glimpse of Yun-Fat's cynical, wiseass New York detective Nick Chen is immediately familiar, and when he tumbles behind a table and comes out shooting two-fisted, he's on well-trod ground. With the introduction of Mark Wahlberg as rookie partner Danny Wallace, and an apparently obvious target -- gang violence in Chinatown, complicated by Wahlberg's necessary cultural awkwardness -- the plot seems clear, but as the script adds layer upon layer of complications, soon the only thing that's clear is that nothing is as it seems. Much of the time, this works, largely due to the genuine chemistry between the co-stars and the outstanding supporting cast, particularly Ric Young as slippery crime boss Henry Lee, Brian Cox as Wahlberg's estranged father, and Paul Ben-Victor as an FBI agent who's too clever for his own good -- all stereotypical characters, but well-realized. Unfortunately, Foley can't seem to decide whether he's making a buddy movie, an action flick (complete with obligatory high-speed chase scene and multiple-digit body count -- at least they don't drive through a parade), or a hard-bitten, cynical drama. Sure, all of these are related, but none of them really predominates, so that at the end you're left wondering just what it was you just saw, and disturbed by some of the film's blunter clichés. Still, The Corruptor has some sterling moments. It helped establish Yun-Fat's presence in the United States (remember, this was before Anna and the King or, more importantly, Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon), and marks a bit of a change of pace for Wahlberg, who manages a serious, sensitive portrayal, although he never looks entirely comfortable in his part.