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Pet Sins February 2000

The Corruptor

OK, I can certainly think of films with more tasteless and more offensive 2-dimensional stereotyping of Asians, so maybe this 1999 picture produced by Oliver Stone wasn't a total disaster. The depiction of Chinatown as a particularly seedy part of town rife with prostitutes and porn-consuming gangsters has drawn criticism from North American Chinese, including those familiar with life in real Chinatowns. Almost all the Chinese women in the film are half-naked prostitutes, with the exception of one police officer. The vicious Chinese youth gangs are always seen consuming pornography or engaging in sexual activity. Of course, the Chinatown youths, as usual, dye their hair blond or orange and carry cell phones. A non-Asian movie critic said The Corruptor contains "every imaginable stereotype in the book."

To be fair, the movie does have its plus points where people of color are concerned. In this movie, Asians have the power. Wahlberg first appears as a rookie, a young man eager to please Chow Yuen Fatt, his superior officer. The other Chinese officers in his unit give him a hard time. A Chinese male colleague assumes he has Chinese fetish when Wahlberg's character reveals he can speak Chinese. "Everything about the culture gives you a hard-on, the language, the food, the women?"

Later, Wahlberg becomes involved with a Chinatown organized crime boss who manipulates him with money and family loyalties. The white character is clearly not in control here. This is a nice change from most movies with Asian and white characters. Usually Asian characters are subtly or not so subtly put in positions of begging and receiving from whites, without being accorded the same choices and power white characters have.

Mark Wahlberg as the nervous, well-meaning young European American cop is disarming and believable. In a particularly tense scene, he confronts some Chinese porn makers in the act of shooting a scene with young girls. One of the crooks throws the camera at Wahlberg, he drops his gun but manages to draw another gun after much fumbling and shoot the bad guys. But not before being injured himself. A welcome change from "invincible great white savior" roles like James Bond etc. However, this just makes Wahlberg's character's later use of Chinese prostitutes seem even a greater cop-out.