Some critics are whining that this second US feature starring Chow Yun-fat doesn’t live up to his Chinese crime thrillers. Maybe that’s because it’s not trying to – in every department, from acting to cinematography, it seems to be emulating TV cop shows like NYPD Blue and New York Undercover. Maybe there’s more nudity, action and destruction than they can get away with (or afford) on TV, but the atmosphere is much the same. James Foley, who went from Who’s That Girl? to After Dark, My Sweet in the late ’80s, continues to have an unpredictable career (what do you expect from a guy who started out acting in Invasion of the Blood Farmers?).
Chow plays a tough NY detective assigned to Chinatown, where hot-headed young punk Billy Wu’s (Byron Mann) gang, the Fuke Dragons are butting heads with the established Tong. Evil Tong underling Henry Lee (Ric Young) has Chow in his pocket because of past debts, and is doing his best to get his hooks into Chow’s new partner Mark Wahlberg, while playing all sides against each other in an attempt to take over everything. Meanwhile, a glory grabbing team of FBI agents and an interfering Internal Affairs department make things even hairier.
The turns of the plot – compounded by thick accents – are difficult to follow, but all becomes clear eventually. The action is grittier than Chow’s previous US films – the gunfights are not pretty. And there’s a gut-wrenching car chase in the middle of the picture that’s one of the best I’ve seen (no bystanders scurrying away just in time here – the body count is pretty high).
While at face value Lee can be taken as the corrupter of the title, turning good cops dirty by convincing them that they’re serving a greater good, the implication is that Chinatown itself (as in the film of the same name) is the true corrupter. While I might agree that the ghettoization of any minority can be an unhealthy environment, the assertion that the Chinese immigrants specifically are a bad influence I find more than a little offensive.