Jack Moore should have known he was headed for trouble when he gazed out the window of his limousine in Beijing's Tiananmen Square and noticed that he was being photographed by a TV surveillance camera.

Moore (Richard Gere), a high-powered lawyer, has come to Beijing to negotiate a satellite communications contract with the Chinese. On his first night out, he meets a Chinese model in a night club. They return to his hotel room for a night of passion.

In the early morning, Moore is dragged from his bed by the police. He is covered with blood, and the model has been stabbed to death. Moore is plunged into the special hell of the Chinese legal system.

Thus begins ``Red Corner,'' part prison movie, part murder mystery, which is greatly enhanced by its reproduction of Beijing today.

It is a film so critical of the Chinese that it could not be shot in the actual locations. But director Jon Avnet was able to bootleg a week's filming amid Beijing landmarks, even a scene of lead actress Bai Ling bicycling along Tiananmen Square. The rest of the exteriors were filmed in Los Angeles on sets convincingly designed by Richard Sylbert.

Jack Moore seems doomed to execution, a process in which the victim's family must pay for the lethal bullet. Neither his company nor the American embassy offers much help. Happily for him, his case is assigned to Shen Yuelin (Bai Ling), a brainy young lawyer whose father had been victimized by the Cultural Revolution.

Dubious at first, the lawyer becomes convinced of Moore's innocence and uses quirks in the legal system to spring him from jail in the daytime. The pair, accompanied by six armed guards, visit the night club and the murder scene to uncover clues that might vindicate him. Along the way, both lawyer and client are brutalized by thugs.

Director Avnet ("Fried Green Tomatoes,'' ``Up Close and Personal") manages to keep the narrative flowing, and the result is a gripping drama. Robert King's screenplay presents the complex tale in straightforward style. Only in the melodramatic Perry Mason ending is credulity strained.

``Red Corner'' represents a cause for Tibetophile Gere, who went from the film's Washington premiere to a White House rally protesting the visit of Chinese President Jiang Zemin.

Gere's work in the film is heartfelt and absorbing, his best performance in years. Bai Ling, a stage and film actress in China who recently has been working in the United States, matches Gere in sincerity. She is both stunning and intelligent.

``Red Corner'' is an MGM release produced by Avnet, Jordan Kerner, Charles B. Mulvehill and Rosalie Swedlin. Rated R for brutality, language, a sex sequence and brief nudity. Running time: 119 minutes.

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Motion Picture Association of America rating definitions:

G _ General audiences. All ages admitted.

PG _ Parental guidance suggested. Some material may not be suitable for children.

PG-13 _ Special parental guidance strongly suggested for children under 13. Some material may be inappropriate for young children.

R _ Restricted. Under 17 requires accompanying parent or adult guardian.

NC-17 _ No one under 17 admitted.