The Shinjuku Incident

Title: The Shinjuku Incident
Rating: 3.5/5
Genre: Crime, Drama, Thriller
Starring: Jackie Chan
Director: Derek Yee
Language: Chinese / Japanese

I'll admit I never really followed Jackie Chan's career so what was news to me might not be to others; that he hadn't abandoned Chinese cinema for Hollywood tripe but rather was still active in both worlds, producing and starring in this film. Surprisingly, it never feels as self-indulgent as it easily could have, re-living his classic martial arts days, but instead there is not a karate kick in sight. In fact this is a very different role for him from what we would expect, as what he's created is a Chinese film about a side of Asia not too unfamiliar to a Western audience, based on actual events that occurred in Shinjuku, and hence has an almost Hollywood vibe to it all as he tackles an issue unique to no single country.

For this is a tale about immigrants, following the path of one as he navigates his way to Tokyo and getting stranded in the process, all in the hopes of finding his childhood love and ensuring she's made her way. But it isn't long before he finds her married to a Yakuza boss, and now heartbroken, as he sees his fellow Chinese brothers abused by the other gangs controlling the district, he gradually descends into the Tokyo underworld. Standing up for his friends, things begin to spiral out of control as he finds himself involved in gangland warfare, becoming the unwitting and unwilling leader, rising to power over Shinjuku, all the whilst other gangs lie watching. The power now yielded by him and his brethren quickly going to their heads, they begin doing illegal trade and garnering the attention of those who seek to remove him from his lofty position, leading to all out warfare for control of the district.

The scope of this film and all the factions; the Taiwanese, Yakuza and the key members balancing on the knife edge of civil war, how the police factor in amidst the rise of the Chinese gang; it's all remarkably complex, and all too easy to lose a snippet of conversation or forget a face and be lost in all the politics, whose doing deals with who and which faction they're keeping it from. It's an interesting and - without knowing the details of the underground crime syndicates in Tokyo - certainly plausible, the immigrant sector flooding with small pockets vying for control, but not enough is done to make it all any the less confusing.

And this isn't the only part that feels rushed, the entire film feels like there are huge expanses of time missing. So much of what happens seems based on many coincidences in a short time frame; finding his wife lost for years in a day, saving a mob boss the next day and then finding yourself head of one of the largest gangs before the weekend. Then instantly the power they receive triggers people to go nuts and stop caring about anyone? The love triangle given a handful of scenes to establish? For what purpose? It all happens too quickly; What took most gangs years to accomplish happens here in what seems like a week!

The pacing might feel rushed but that's not to say this is a bad film. It neither shies from violence nor exploits it, using graphic images to get make his point without ever becoming self-indulgent. Much of the cast, with a particular mention of Daniel Wu who plays the role of Jie perfectly, does what they could with the script never allowing them enough as characters; the trade off of it being cut shorter is that the action is never far away, hurtling forward with an impressive frenetic momentum. There may not be the karate kicks of what we would usually expect but this just improves the tension; that our protagonist is human, fighting and getting injured in a realistic manner and lending a certain unpredictable element to how things unfold. This film at times feels like it could have been the Chinese' answer to 'Scarface;' the immigrants rise to power, how that power corrupts, and the invariable perils that ensue. It's a difficult film to follow, and whilst not bad, never feels like it's adding anything particularly new and falls short of everything it could have been.


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