Shinjuku Incident is
a surprising find: a solid, gritty crime thriller from Hong Kong starring
Jackie Chan. Eschewing his cuddlier American image, Chan plays
a quiet, single-minded Chinese immigrant who comes to Japan in search
of a woman and instead finds power and influence. The film is
both old fashioned and refreshing, skillfully directed by Tung-Shing
"Derek" Yee, and consistently engrossing.
Among a boatload of raggedy,
poor Chinese refugees, "Nick" (Jackie Chan) comes ashore at a Japanese
beach and finds his way into Tokyo's Shinjuku district, one of the
city's busiest business centers. After joining with his brother
"Joe" (Daniel Wu) and a larger group of illegal Chinese immigrants,
Nick sets out to fulfill the reason he left China: to find his long
lost fiancée Xiu Xiu (Xu Jinglei). It doesn't take long for
him to discover that she has since married a local crime lord, Eguchi
(Masaya Kato). Eguchi leads one of several Yakuza gangs that have
joined to form a larger syndicate; however, internal strife continues
to pit the gangs against each other. When Nick tracks down a rival
gang leader who has wounded Joe, he winds up saving Eguchi's life
in the process. Eguchi allots Nick significant power and control
over criminal enterprise in a Shinjuku neighborhood. Thus begins
Nick's rise to power.
Shinjuku Incident weaves
several other plot threads into what is ultimately a convincing character
study and gripping thriller. Chan's performance as "Nick"
(his character is called "Steelhead" in Chinese, and was inexplicably
changed in the subtitles) is marked by a quiet, controlled sense of
purpose. Nick only wants legal status and something resembling
a regular life; it is only when circumstances call for it that he turns
to crime in his search for peace and stability. After losing his
fiancée, Nick's vision of the future is drastically altered, and
all bets are off.
The script guides us through
Nick's story while maintaining a potent, challenging contemporary
perspective. The plight of Chinese immigrants and the state of
Japan's criminal gangs are approached with a forthright confidence
that suggests a real engagement with these issues on the part of the
filmmakers. The brutal violence in the film seems a lot more like
an outgrowth of a commitment to realism than a sensationalistic attempt
to court controversy. (Shinjuku Incident was banned in mainland
China for this reason.)
Swift direction from Derek
Yee keeps things moving very quickly, with character moments interspersed
with bursts of action. The widescreen photography by Nobuyasu
Kita is particularly noteworthy; it utilizes creative lighting effects
and is stylishly economical. There's nary an instance of visual
overkill; the crew keeps the film at ground level. Even the blood
that is spilled, copious though it is, doesn't spray in the firehose
arcs used by other filmmakers working in similar modes. Shinjuku
Incident is an accomplished film that reflects a highly-engaged
production grappling with issues both personal and political in a seamless,
Sony Pictures has provided an excellent enhanced 2.35:1 transfer.
The production contrasts earthier tones of Chinese farms against the
neon colors and harsher light of central Tokyo. These differences
are served well by this finely-tuned image, which exhibits excellent
detail and only the most fleeting of digital artifacts.
Dolby Digital 5.1 surround
tracks are available in both the original Chinese and Japanese, and
in dubbed English. I listened to the original language track,
and it's a strong one. Dialogue is very clear, and ambient effects
are excellent. Discrete direction surrounds are only used occasionally.
Bonus content is limited. Select Scene Commentary with Jackie
Chan (8:56) is interesting, but too brief. Chan covers some
of the production's background and the reality of the illegal immigrant
experience in Japan. Say Hello to the Bay Guy: Up Close with
Jackie Chan (10:34) is essentially an EPK piece, although the actor-producer's
comments are interesting, especially when he discusses his strong desire
to break out of the "action star" mold and do some real acting.
Shinjuku Incident is
something different from Jackie Chan - a non-genre film that includes
some very topical content, as well as a convincing performance from
its star. This well-made, exciting movie deserves a wider audience
than it has so far received. Recommended.
Casey Burchby lives in Northern California: Twitter, Tumblr.