Shinjuku Incident Review
In the wake of 2008’s furiously awful “The Forbidden Kingdom”, one could be forgiven for thinking martial arts legend Jackie Chan had been rung dry. This is why Derek Yee’s Shinjuku Incident comes as a breath of fresh air. Mr Chan is on form and kicking ass. It’s good to have him back.
The Shinjuku Incident is set around Chan’s character “Steelhead”, who illegally emigrates from China in pursuit of his ex Xiu-xiu, who has disappeared after leaving the mainland for a new life in prosperous 90’s Japan.
He lives alongside his fellow immigrants doing what they can to get money and survive. This lifestyle quickly leads to involvement with the criminal Yakuza gangs in the area. After a particularly gritty scene, Steelhead takes it upon himself to avenge the torture and mutilation of his friend, Jie, at the hands of a casino owner. In the process he inadvertently saves the life of a gang leader about to be assassinated.
This launches him into a depraved underworld of power hungry mobsters, and it’s interesting to see how Steelhead struggles with his new position in the criminal underworld.
The plots structure has a recognisable trait shared with many East Asian films, in that different layers elaborately intertwine before coming together in a violent conclusion. This is offset by the way the movie is shot, which is clearly borrowed from Western Cinema. The shaky camera, photographic style and lighting could have been taken straight from a Hollywood action blockbuster. This is an unusual pairing, but it definitely works.
The Shinjuku Incident was banned in China on its release, and it’s clear to see why. The timeline the movie is set in and the events that take place aren’t entirely fictional. The mass immigration of people from China to Japan, prior to the formers vast economic growth, isn’t something the nation is proud of. Films that tackle difficult situations are to be admired.
This, unfortunately, is one of the few things the Shinjuku Incident actually has going for it. The movie isn’t a wasted two hours, but the complicated structure, the unrealized characters and one particular out of place scene (that looks like it was shot at an anime convention) let it down as a whole. Jackie Chan’s “Steelhead” could have been much better explored. His motives are never properly explained, and we’re supposed to take it on faith that he’s trying to be morally right. I would venture that his actions are more akin to those of a psychopath than a man in love.
To conclude: It’s good to see an Asian cinema legend return in a serious roll, and the integration of western film techniques gives it an edge. The action is tense and uses blunt realism to draw you in, which makes a change from the beautifully choreographed fight scenes we’re used to seeing Chan in. But overall the story lacks momentum, time jumps inexplicable distances, and we don’t ever get a sense of who Steelhead really is.
It could have been great. But sadly it’s not.