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SHINJUKU INCIDENT (Xin Su shi jian) (HK)

  Publicity Stills of
"Shinjuku Incident"
(Courtesy of GV)

In Mandarin and Japanese
Director: Derek Yee
Cast: Jackie Chan, Naoto Takenaka, Daniel Wu, Xu Jinglei, Masaya Kato, Fan Bingbing, Toro Minegishi, Lam Suet, Hiroyuki Nagato, Jack Kao, Paul Chun, Yasuaki Kurata, Chin Ka-Lok
RunTime: 2 hrs
Released By: GV and Scorpio East
Rating: NC-16 (Violence)
Official Website: http://shinjukuincident.emp.hk/en_main.html

Opening Day: 2 April 2009

Our Interview with Jackie Chan | Our Interview with Daniel Wu


The Chinese migrant communities in Tokyo live shadowy lives. The Japanese neither acknowledge nor welcome them. They are shunned by the mainstream society, hounded by the yakuza, and go about their days under fear of being discovered and repatriated.

It is an alien world for Steelhead, an honest, hardworking tractor repairman from Heilongjian in northern China. Steelhead had decided to take the perilous journey to Tokyo after he lost contact with his girlfriend, who had arrived in the city earlier.

Trying to exist in the underbelly of Tokyo long enough to find Xiu Xiu, Steelhead has come to realize the migrants had to stand united if they wanted to go about their lives without fear of oppression by not only the Japanese underworld but also Chinese gangs.

In his search of a decent living, Steelhead unwittingly finds himself pit against the Japanese yakuza. Ironically he also discovers that Xiu Xiu has adopted a Japanese identity and married Eguchi, an ambitious up and coming yakuza chief.

Steelhead wins the respect of his friends by establishing a base for them and forms an uneasy alliance with Eguchi. When he helps Eguchi dispose of a rival, he is given the control of Shinjuku’s night establishments. But, uninterested in living a gangster’s life, Steelhead finds a new love and takes the chance to start a tractor repair business outside Tokyo. However, his peace is shortlived when word gets to him that his former compatriots were now being used by Eguchi to front the yakuza’s drug business.

Steelhead feels responsible for this turn of events and feels obligated to bring Eguchi down. He also has to bear in mind that if he goes after Eguchi, he would be destroying the newfound life of the woman he once loved. In any case, can one simple Chinese migrant take on the yakuza alone?

Movie Review:

Jackie Chan has picked a damn fine director for his much touted first foray into serious acting. Throughout this taut gangland thriller, one can sense the assured, confident hand of acclaimed director Derek Yee. And that has made all the difference- because Yee has guided Jackie Chan into what is easily one of the most understated but no less gripping performances of his career.

Indeed, the Jackie Chan in Shinjuku Incident is quite unlike what audiences have come to expect of him from his movies. Here he plays a lowly illegal Chinese migrant Steelhead in Japan who gets by sorting garbage at the dumps or cleaning waste in the sewage. But eventually, his character gets mixed up with a life of organized crime- maiming his enemies, shooting a ‘yakuza’ boss point blank and strangling another to death.

Thanks to Derek Yee, you’ll get to see all those scenes in their gory glory- and let me warn you, it does get pretty graphic. Just as he showed in his most recent underworld-themed dramas One Night in Mongkok and Protégé, Shinjuku Incident is proof that Yee is not one director who shies away from blood and violence in order to sanitise his movies.

But Derek Yee’s brilliance lies not simply in his audacity, but in his astute observations of socio-political reality. If One Night in Mongkok was a realistic portrayal of the Hong Kong triads, and Protégé a reflection of the drug business and its ramifications, then Shinjuku Incident is a depiction of the plight of the many Chinese migrants who left their homelands for Japan in search of a better future but were instead faced with hardships and discrimination.

Certainly, Yee’s years of research into the subject has provided him with much inspiration to craft a realistically detailed exploration of the lives of these migrants during the ’90s. He injects much empathy into the many characters in this movie, letting his audience experience the loneliness, alienation and rejection that these people faced in an unfamiliar environment. Although clearly sentimental towards the subject, Yee artfully never lets the movie turn maudlin at any point.

And shrewdly, Yee, who also wrote the movie, never makes Steelhead the outright hero. Instead, this is a flawed hero, one that has noble intentions of trying to help himself and his fellow migrants live a better life but ultimately fails to calculate the possible consequences of his dubious means. Such is the nature of ordinary heroes, and Jackie Chan portrays his character well in an appropriately low-key fashion.

True to the spirit of Steelhead then, Jackie Chan doesn’t fight at all in Shinjuku Incident. Sure he gets into fights, but there’s none of the stunts we’re used to seeing him in. Instead, he eschews the comfortable conventions of Jackie Chan the action star to focus on conveying his character’s isolation and subsequent indignation. To be sure, this is no less than a groundbreaking performance for Jackie Chan for he proves he can actually act without action.

The supporting cast also give sterling performances. Especially, Daniel Wu is quite the scene-stealer as Steelhead’s close friend, Jie, who does a radical transformation after a particularly traumatic incident. Lately, Daniel Wu has been drawn to playing conflicted characters and his convincing performance here is testament to how much he has matured as an actor. Just as outstanding in this movie is Japanese actor Naoto Takenaka, whose role as a cop sympathetic to Steelhead’s predicament is simply riveting to watch.

Of course, Shinjuku Incident is about Jackie Chan and this is certainly a notable beginning for the veteran action star’s venture into more dramatic territory. But let’s also not forget why this movie really works- Derek Yee. Once again, the acclaimed director makes another fine entry into his repertoire by taking a most interesting subject matter and distilling it into a thought-provoking movie that is equal parts action and drama and just as riveting either way.

Movie Rating:

(So what if Jackie Chan doesn’t fight? Taut, tense and gripping- his latest is still one riveting watch)

Review by Gabriel Chong


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. Rush Hour 3 (2007)

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. Dragons Forever DVD (1998)

. Crime Story DVD (1993)

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