Red Corner [Blu-ray]
Blu-ray ALL - Australia - Umbrella Entertainment
Review written by and copyright: James-Masaki Ryan (9th March 2024).
The Film

"Red Corner" (1997)

Jack Moore (played by Richard Gere) is on a business trip in Beijing to sell his American company’s television programming for Chinese market executives. One evening, he takes a beautiful model to his hotel room for the night, but things turn for the worst when he is awakened to find the police arresting him for the murder of the woman, who happens to be the daughter of military general Liu (played by Jia Yao Li). Moore is quickly accused of the murder and immediately forced to go to trial without proper council from a lawyer as the American Embassy cannot offer one. Instead he is appointed by Shen Yuelin (played by Bai Ling), a young female lawyer to take his defense, even if she doesn’t believe his innocence. While it seems impossible for Jack to return to freedom, he and his lawyer must try to uncover the truth, going against all odds.

Richard Gere for many years has been an advocate for Tibetan freedom and calling out the Chinese government on their policies. Befriending the Dalai Lama in the 1980s and using his star power to speak out against the policies of the Chinese government, he took a stand at the 1993 Academy Awards when he was presenting the Best Art Direction award by mentioning about freedom for Tibet and criticism against the oppressive Chinese regime. This led to a ten year ban from the Academy Awards, even though his unscripted comments were met with applause by the audience. Although Gere’s career seemed to have been unscathed as he continued with a number of hits, he stated that there were some jobs that were turned down due to the controversy he caused. In 1997, he would take the political issue head on in a story that seemed to perfectly fit his liking, with a story critical of the Chinese government’s treatment of people with “Red Corner”.

Writer Robert King’s inspiration for the screenplay for “Red Corner” came from the experience of his sister being detained in Russia and the trouble that came about being arrested in a foreign country. Although the setting was changed from Russia to China for the script, it was also a country that was infamously known for their strict laws and oppression of the voices of the people, and even more so against outsiders. The script was told through the eyes of a foreigner that must abide by the country’s complex and limiting legal system in which it was rare that an accused would be proven innocent, and that the phrase of “innocent until proven guilty” does not translate. But overall, the basic idea of “Red Corner” is a blackmail thriller, where the protagonist must uncover the truth to how and why he was setup.

From the legal perspective it seems like a dead and done deal, as the woman’s blood was found on Jack’s clothing, he was found to have alcohol in his bloodstream, and he had spent the night with her. Even Shen says to the court that her client will plead guilty, as it would make the sentencing more lenient, though he highly disagrees with her. “Red Corner” becomes a fairly straightforward courtroom drama (except by having real time interpreters through headphones for Jack’s character to understand) even though the court’s chairman Xu (played by Tsai Chin) and Shen can speak English. There is somewhat a reality placed here as a court case in Beijing would be conducted in Mandarin, though there are some points where Shen states facts and evidence in English for no apparent reason. In addition to that, there are a few more obvious flaws to the logic of the story.

There is one scene in which he and Shen are taken out into the city by blackmailed guards and later planned to be executed. It is done in broad daylight with dozens of onlookers which seems like the worst possible way to conduct a murder as it would take a major hurdle to cover up entirely. Instead it becomes a perfect opportunity for Jack to make an escape from rooftop to rooftop as he tries to find the American Embassy to seek asylum. While he is successful in escaping and being in the safety of the American government, he decides to return to the Chinese authorities seeing that his lawyer who started believing in him was going to be placed in bigger trouble. It’s stated that Jack’s incarceration is brutal and degrading as it is in various scenes where he is treated to mental and physical harm, but what else could be done to his sentence if he was tried also for an incarcerated prisoner escaping the authorities? Absolutely nothing for some reason, as the trial continues on like nothing had happened. While it was important to have the scene to show Jack’s changing heart and not being a loner anymore, somehow his choice on just walking back into prison and then nothing particularly worse happening to him seemed like a stretch. There are other logistical plotholes as to the setup of the murder and how it was tried to be blamed on Jack, and with so many questions on the handling of the case, even the Chinese authorities would have had a hard time convicting Jack. But as the film tries to state, there are many other cases in real life in which little to no evidence could still send a person to prison in some countries such as China and is a cautionary tale to those in power and for awareness of the issues that continue in the twenty-first century.

Director Jon Avnet did a fairly good job with the direction of the film, as well as the cinematography by Karl Walter Lindenlaub, though production designer Richard Sylbert should be singled out highly for his research in recreating Beijing streets on a Hollywood backlot, as it was impossible to have the production shot in mainland China. Through research visits and photographs, the locations could easily be mistaken for Beijing in many scenes, though others can be obvious greenscreen shots such as Gere’s character in a car in front of the Palace Museum. There is also additional praise for Bai Ling for an emotional and strong performance which was in many cases a reality for her, as like her character who was caring for her elderly grandmother, Ling’s separation from her grandmother who was living in China was a mirror to the character of Shen. Though Gere is the centerpiece and keeps the film grounded, Ling definitely steals the show in a number of powerful scenes whether in the courtroom or at her grandmother's house. While the film is well made and well performed, it is hampered down by the logic and the unrealistic overtones that can sometimes be a problem for courtroom dramas.

In 1997, there were coincidentally three major Hollywood productions that were critical of the People's Republic of China's government in both the past and the present. "Red Corner" was one, "Seven Years in Tibet" was another, and finally "Kundun". "Seven Years in Tibet" and "Kundun" All three films were major features but they all had trouble during production through pressures from the Chinese government influencing the studios not to support the films. "Seven Years in Tibet" and "Kundun" were condemned and banned by the Chines government for their portrayals of the Dalai Lama. In addition to having some of the stars and filmmakers being banned from entering mainland China for years to come, it also led to studios having to apologize to the country for the films. For "Red Corner" it is reported that the film was actually screened and released in mainland China, though in a censored form. It is uncertain what was changed and what the reception was for the Chinese version of the film. Following these three films, there have been no studio produced films that were critical of China at all. As the country became a powerhouse for box office returns and for the entertainment industry internationally, many productions in the 2000s have bent over backwards to appease the Chinese government instead. Stars and studios had to apologize for small details and tiny mishaps that caused problems with the Chinese government over the years, with Hollywood studios looking for box office returns as the main goal rather than creating art with socially conscious issues except in smaller or rare cases. "Red Corner" is by no means and masterpiece and is filled with flaws, but it is an absolutely brave work that was a major risk for its cast and crew, and that is something not often seen anymore from a major feature. Gere was still able to work in a number of features over the years, though most have been independent productions. Ling had her Chinese citizenship revoked due to her work on the film and became an American citizen, continuing her acting career mostly in Hollywood.

Premiering on October 21st, 1997 in New York followed by a general release on October 31st, the film opened at second place and ended up grossing $22 million against a $40 million budget, making it a box office bomb. While the film was given mixed reviews, there was universal praise for Ling's performance, which she won two awards from the National Board of Review and the San Diego Film Critics Society. In addition Gere and Avent won the Freedom of Expression Award from the National Board of Review and the film won an award from the Political Film Society.

Note this is a region ALL Blu-ray


Umbrella Entertainment presents the film in the 1.85:1 aspect ratio in 1080p AVC MPEG-4. The HD transfer from MGM is a good one but looking a bit dated. Colors can look thick and it can be spotty in processed shots. Detail is good throughout, it is properly framed, and is fairly sharp, but there are some issues with some shots looking worse or grainier than others. Shots that have burned-in subtitles seem to be coming from a secondary source so there is thicker grain and even some damage marks visible, and that is also the case for the opening credits and greenscreen shots. The image is serviceable and is notably better than the old MGM DVD releases, it's one that could look much better with a newer transfer.

The film's runtime is 122:18.


English DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1
English DTS-HD Master Audio 2.0 stereo

There are two audio tracks available, with the original 5.1 and a downmixed 2.0 track. Thomas Newman's score is effectively used in the surrounds, as well as certain effects such as glass shattering and echoes in the prison. Dialogue is almost always centered and is clear and well balanced throughout. There are no issues of dropout, hiss, or other damage to be heard.

There are burned-in English subtitles for the Mandarin portions in a yellow font and optional English HoH subtitles in a white font. The yellow font is a bit on the bright side, though they are legible throughout and without errors. The English HoH subtitles are well timed, though there were some spelling errors, such as the ducks quacking in the opening sequence being subtitled as "Quaking" instead of "Quacking".


Audio Commentary with Heath Holland of Cereal at Midnight (2024)
This new and exclusive commentary by film fan and YouTuber Heath Holland (Cereal at Midnight) has quite a lot of information about the production of the film, from it being shot mainly in Hollywood on sound stages, the turning point in Gere's career and his political stance against Chinese oppression, information on similar true cases of brutal foreign incarcerations, comparisons to political thrillers of the 1970s, information on the cast and crew, and much more. There are some points when he goes off topic and discusses unrelated films, but he does try to keep things scene specific when possible. There are no pauses to speak of, except for one scene in which he admits he doesn't want to talk over due to its powerful performance by Bai Ling. A fun yet well researched commentary that kind of (but not entirely) makes up for the lack of a director's commentary. (More on that below.)
in English Dolby Digital 2.0 without subtitles

"From Tiananmen to Hollywood: The Legacy of Red Corner" 2024 visual essay by L. Scott Jose (13:44)
This new and exclusive visual essay by writer and co-founder of Melbourne's Crime Factory Publications looks at the production of the film, from Avnet's involvement and his career, the development of the script by King and his personal inspiration from his sister's arrest in Russia, Gere's career, the reaction from China to the film, comparisons to other anti-China themed films that were released around the same time, and more. Again, this one is also well researched and has a good amount of information which has some overlay with the commentary but still has a good amount of exclusive notes. The essay is illustrated with clips of the film, other films mentioned, and vintage clips.
in 1080p AVC MPEG-4, in various ratios, in English Dolby Digital 2.0 without subtitles

"Red Corner" was first released on DVD back in 1996 by MGM and included a commentary by Avnet, trivia and production notes as text, and the theatrical trailer. (The non-US releases did not include the text extra.) It was first released on Blu-ray in Germany by Studio Hamburg which unfortunately had no extras and only had lossy audio. Umbrella's release presents it with lossless audio and has new extras, but strangely it doesn't include the vintage MGM DVD extras, even though the film was licensed from MGM via Park Circus. It may have been a cost or rights issue with the commentary, but it is curious that the original trailer was not included.

Notable clips:

The original US theatrical trailer, with the unmistakable 90s narration.

Richard Gere's adlibbed speech addressing China's human rights issues at the 1993 Academy Awards

1997 interview with Richard Gere by Bobbie Wygant

1997 interview with Bai Ling by Bobbie Wygant

1997 interview with John Avnet by Bobbie Wygant

1997 interview with Richard Gere by Maritza Garcia

Siskel & Ebert's negative review of "Red Corner"


The disc is packaged in a standard clear keep case with reversible artwork. The artwork is identical except the opposite side is lacking the Australian M rating logo. The first pressing also comes with a slipcase and is limited to 1500 copies.
The packaging states region B only but is in fact region ALL.


"Red Corner" is a fine political thriller with its direction and performances, though it can border on absurdity due to the logic of the entire setup against one lowly businessman. It's also an interesting footnote in Hollywood of 1997 and is still worth a look, but not an essential one. The Umbrella Entertainment Blu-ray has a good presentation with some exclusive extras, though note the old DVD extras have not been ported over.

Umbrella Shop link

The Film: B- Video: B+ Audio: A Extras: B- Overall: B


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