American lawyer Jack Moore is in Beijing on what looks to be a successful business trip for his company to enter into a film and television distribution deal with the Chinese government, their main competitor for that distribution deal being HoffCo Telecom out of Germany. Before Jack's boss David McAndrews and the Chinese government sign on the dotted line of the contract, Jack is implicated in a murder, the victim who was discovered in his hotel room. The police were alerted to an incident in his hotel room based on the report of hearing a scream emanating from his room, such a scream which Jack, asleep in the room when the police entered, did not hear. Jack being charged with murder quashes the distribution deal, which instead is awarded to HoffCo. The situation is made all the worse for Jack due to the known connections between the victim and people within high places in China, who may try to manipulate the situation to see Jack sentenced to death for the murder. Jack also has ...Written by
As of 2020, this is the last American film to take a strong stance against the Chinese government. Since that time, studios have avoided controversial topics in order to attract Chinese audiences, and in some cases had to make sure their films promoted Chinese nationalism. See more »
When the handcuffs are cut off Jack Moore in the American Embassy, using bolt cutters, they drop free as if unlocked; not into two pieces, as they should, with the ratchet part still in the locking mechanism. See more »
When I was a child I would come to this park and play, and my grandmother would tell me why the bamboo was here. She said, it is waiting for the wind to touch it. It is filled with emotion. Listen to the sound, and you can feel that.
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The opening title is first displayed in Chinese "letters" (called hanzi) which then change into English. See more »
Essentially what we are shown here is not the classical American court drama. When our 'Mr. Deeds' goes to town, the town is Beijing, and his case becomes a show-trial in the cockpit of a new Chinese revolution that is taking place between the old-guard Maoists and the modernisers.
Richard Gere's American is an alienated, rootless 'Rick' caught in the cultural cross-fire between two power blocs. It is his enforced engagement with the reality of another world-view and the struggle of an intelligent Chinese woman to redeem the revolutionary excesses of her culture that lead directly to the Casablanca-esque ending, where love is sublimated beyond the personal to an ideal understanding and identification - 'You have a family here' - with the historical plight of a people.
This explains Richard Gere's unusually selfless performance, where he has had the taste and intelligence to let the women, particularly his Chinese defence lawyer, dominate every situation and every scene. Indeed, this feminist tendency in the film is also reflected in the consistently hostile view taken of the militaristic structure of Chinese state power as so much authoritarian posturing. As symbol of a new China the young woman lawyer is most effective: The ancient Greeks also saw the spirit of unbiased law as female, and Shakespeare's Portia is another such paradigm. And the actress portraying her illuminates the screen with her passionate intellectual intensity.
There is an effective parallelism to the revolutionary acts which destroyed the young lawyer's father during the time of the Cultural Revolution, leaving her with crippling and unresolved guilt, and the barrel of a gun in the hands of the murdered girl's father which alone can resolve the historical tensions at work in the courtroom, and reverse all the political lies in a new revolutionary act, additionally realising the great potential of a young China, by freeing that stirring Chinese conscience from its historical contradictions.
So this is an intelligent political thriller, although those of a more Costas-Gavrian or Godardian intellectual purity do seem to resent seeing a crisis of the Left viewed even from a very disengaged American viewpoint, disliking the humanist American strain of populist appeal in a political context, and resenting the smooth professionalism of the presentation as a mere circus. Even stranger are the objectors to Gere's Buddhism, who seemingly take fright at the intrusion of other perspectives into their own blinkered focus! In any case, Buddhism seems clearly not to be an issue to the scriptwriter.
This film in no way presents itself as the last word on its subject - but it is an intelligent and engaging movie, which, far from slandering the Chinese in the manner some vintage Korean-War tub-thumper about the 'Yellow Peril', goes out of its way not to identify the Chinese people with their masters. Curiously, this is exactly what the film's detractors do!
There is a sly reference to the Boxer Rebellion that began China's long road to modernisation, in the person of the trusty who was sent to beat up or even kill the American, but who comes to see that the real foreign devils in this instance are the corrupted Chinese officials who have sold out to the worst foreign traits of cynicism and greed by doing back-door deals with an unscrupulous Western communications company, and who finally confesses his error with true selfless revolutionary earnestness.
The fact that this Boxer Rebellion is played out in the blockbuster film equivalent of Madison Square Gardens, and is mightily entertaining throughout, has led many critics to assume that all they have been presented with is a superficial entertainment unworthy of such a serious subject. Actually, the film is fully engaged with the tragedy and passion of the Chinese people as they try to work out their destiny, and the proof of this is that, to any unbiased observer, the film leaves one with a new respect for the Chinese people, caught up in the complexities of their own history, and struggling for a better life. There is nothing patronising; there is emphatically no United States Cavalry riding to the rescue.
And I should have thought the contempt shown throughout towards official American diplomacy and state policy would have appealed to the most anti-American leftist. But are the critics just taking fashionable left jabs at their own right-wing bogies? - and I do mean Humphrey! Let us leave these obsessives to their futile shadow-boxing, forever engaged with an opponent entirely constructed from the straw which evidently bulks out their own brain-pans.
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