Year of release: 2009
Genre: crime drama
Director: Derek Yee
Action director: Chin Kar-Lok
Producers: Willie Chan, Solon So
Writers: Derek Yee, Chun Tin-Nam, Liu Yung-Ping
Cinematography: Kita Nobuyasu
Editors: Tang Man-To, Kwong Chi-Leung, Cheung Ka-Fai
Music: Peter Kam
Stars: Jackie Chan, Daniel Wu, Takenaka Naoto, Xu Jing-Lei, Kato Masaya, Fan Bing-Bing, Kenya Sawada, Jack Kao, Paul Chun Pui, Lam Suet, Yasuaki Kurata, Chin Kar-Lok, Ken Lo
Rated III for violence, language, drug use, and brief sexuality/nudity
Movie Review Index
In Shinjuku Incident, Jackie Chan plays Steelhead, a man who illegally emigrates to Japan to find his would-be wife, Xiu Xiu (Xu Jing-Lei). He looks up his friend Jin (Daniel Wu), and finds the Chinese immigrants in Japan are regulated to doing bad jobs for little money. Wanting to become a legal citizen, Steelhead starts doing petty crimes to earn the cash for a fake ID. After inadvertently saving Eguchi (Kato Masaya), one of the top Yakuza in the area from an assassination attempt, Steelhead begins moving up the criminal hierarchy. But this "success" attracts the attention of both the cops and the other Yakuza, and Steelhead becomes a marked man.
Over the years, Jackie Chan has dabbled in being a dramatic actor in films such as Crime Story, Heart of Dragon, and New Police Story. For all intents and purposes, Shinjuku Incident can be considered his first full dramatic role, and it's in a Category III gangster picture, no less. The movie generated a bit of controversy before it was release, since the violent content and moral ambiguity of the characters caused it to be banned in Mainland China, something which has been unheard of from a Jackie Chan production.
After the gimmick of seeing Jackie doing stuff like chopping off people's hands disappears, we're thankfully left with a pretty solid crime movie. The plot isn't anything really all that original -- the movie telegraphs all of the upcoming twists in the story fairly clearly. And as far as Category III movies go, the violence quotient is actually surprisingly low, excepting a couple of the aforementioned limb severings. Though we do get the "treat" of seeing Jackie's naked rear end as he goes into a bath-house, and then he later gets involved in a very brief sex scene (with thankfully no sightings of "little Jackie" to be had).
What really sells the movie are the performances, even if Jackie Chan is the weakest link in that department. He's not bad per se, and, in fact, in some scenes, he's quite good. But, overall, Chan's acting chops just aren't up to the level of the material. It might also be a case of someone who has made a career out of comedic kung fu, as well as trying to promote himself as a positive role model off-screen, trying to portray someone who is more than a bit cold-blooded and willing to commit all sorts of crimes. After watching Jackie in the same sort of roles for decades, it's somewhat hard to take the sudden shift in character without at least a little grain of salt.
The other actors do fare better, though. Daniel Wu's work isn't as strong as some of his other outings with director Derek Yee (such as One Nite in Mongkok) but he does manage to create a sympathetic character with Jin, even under some fairly silly Joker-esque makeup he adopts later in the picture. The majority of the rest of the cast is filled with strong veterans like Lam Suet and Paul Chun Pui, who give the appropriate bit of gravitas to the proceedings. Like many Hong Kong productions, the female roles have a bit of a throwaway feel, but Xu Jing-Lei and Fan Bing-Bing (who plays Jackie's girlfriend) do well with what they have to work with.
It's really no secret that Jackie Chan is in the twilight of his career, at least as a leading man. But at least Shinjuku Incident shows that he is willing to roll with the punches (so to speak) and adapt himself to working in a different direction. Unlike the increasingly-woeful Rush Hour movies, which are a cash cow for Chan, but offer little in the way of "true" film-making -- much less any real excitement for the audience -- pictures like this show that Jackie Chan still has a bit of spirit left, and isn't willing to take the easy way out to coast into retirement aboard the cinematic equivalent of a Little Rascal scooter.