Thursday, March 4, 2010

Movie Review: Shinjuku Incident

For American audiences, we don't get to see Jackie Chan in the light that this movie casts. We see him in movies like Shanghai Noon, Rush Hour, The Tuxedo or his latest US flick, The Spy Next Door. He plays a likable guy with killer martial arts skills who is able to use whatever is around him clay pots, sofas, scaffolding, clock works to move around and vanquish his opponent. He uses comedy throughout to bring smiles to the audience's faces. Shinjuku Incident is not like that at all. Released in April 2009 in Hong Kong it is just making its way into US theaters. Done in Japanese and Mandarin, we watch the action and are lead via the subtitles.

I had two people in the theater with me who kept talking back and forth trying to figure out the language and that they had to read the subtitles. After the first two minutes if they didn't like reading subtitles they always had the option to leave.

Chan plays Steelhead an illegal Chinese immigrant in Japan. Back in China he used to repair engines. His fiance Xiu Xiu (Xu Jinglei) moved to Japan to try to find a better life saying that she'll come back but when she doesn't and communication stops, he follows his heart to try to find her. After escaping the authorities on the Japanese beach he meets up with his brother Jie (Daniel Wu) who introduces him to other illegals who are picking up odd jobs and stealing in order to survive.

During an immigration bust Steelhead saves the life of Detective Kitano (Naoto Takenaka) who is greatful and wishes to repay Steelhead. When he discovers his fiance is now the wife of a Yakuza boss Steelhead decides to become a legal citizen of Japan. In the process he gets caught up in Chinese gangs and the Yakuza. To keep his brother out of trouble Steelhead buys Jie a chestnut cart. Jie unfortunately has a run in with another gang and ends up with severe injuries. Steelhead while trying to exact revenge for Jie ends up saving the life of his ex's husband. Eguchi (Masaya Kato) hires Steelhead to kill those people who were trying to kill him.

For the first time we see Jackie Chan, not in defensive mode but playing offense. While trying to play protector he ends up being aggressor. It's not what we American audiences think of when someone drops the name of Jackie Chan. We see a side to him that we haven't been presented. Instead of this coordinated flailing martial arts master that deflects blows, we see a man who gets hurt and shows emotions.

After taking care of Eguchi's request and being rewarded with control of specific districts including Shinkuku, Steelhead tries to lead a normal life going back to repairing engines leaving the control of the Chinese gang to the people who originally helped him. Without his sense of fairness the other immigrants start to fall into illegal activities that Steelhead never would have imagined. One of the corrupt leaders is none other that his brother Jie.

Detective Kitano gets called upon to crackdown on the illegal activities at the same time parts of the Yakuza decide they want to take back control of the areas that were given to the Chinese. The undercurrent of racism rears it head and comes out. Kitano thinks it's Steelhead not realizing Steelhead has stepped back from control but wants to work with him to pay back his personal debt he owes to Steelhead. All hell breaks out as the Yakuza and formerly illegal immigrants fight for control.

Chan plays good guy and he plays bad guy. The good guy isn't like what we see with his movies made for America. There were some typical Chan traits, but not over the top. The bad guy we haven't seen before. This is a drama not a comedy or martial arts flick although there is some martial arts involved. One of the challenges with watching foreign flicks with subtitles is having to focus on the bottom of the screen. Without understanding the languages involved the nuances of the vocal part of the performance is lost.

The movie was an interesting story of immigration challenges set in Japan. It presented something that we normally see with issues between the US and Mexico. Presented with another culture and location but similar reasoning we're given another level of interest to draw us into the story. If this two hours which is rated R due to graphic violence, brief sexuality and drug use is playing in your area, I would recommend checking it out for another side of Jackie Chan's acting abilities.