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Shinjuku Incident (Derek Yee, 2009)


     An issues-driven drama that eventually gives into the temptation to become a Jackie Chan vehicle, Derek Yeeís ambitious Shinjuku Incident sends mixed signals throughout its run time. Opening as it does, with a shipful of Chinese illegal immigrants storming the beaches of Japan, the film initially suggests that it will devote itself to the plight of the disenfranchised. For a while, it does just that, following a group of migrant workers, reluctantly lead by Steelhead (Chan), as they work in unsafe, underpaid conditions, performing tasks that few Japanese laborers would want to perform. These early scenes never betray the movieís big-budget origins (the squattersí apartment is a marvel of art direction, recognizable character actors fill out the cast, Chan initially remains passive as his countrymen engage in illegal activities, etcÖ), but they do establish the expectation that Chan might be attempting a straight drama.  

     As the title implies, however, violence eventually erupts in Shinjuku Incident. At the midway point, the story shifts from showing Chinese immigrants as they game the system from the sidelines to squaring them off against Yakuza in a bid for power. In its second half, Shinjuku Incident showcases considerably more violence, and begins to portray increasingly illegal actions, but does so at the risk of alienating Chanís core audience. The film is gory, especially by the standards of Chanís oeuvre, with limbs lopped off and entrails splayed out. Just as surprising, though, is Steelheadís murky morality. As the movie progresses, he steals, kills maliciously, and even sleeps with a prostitute. There always remains some tension between Chanís existing on-screen persona and the misdeeds that his character commits in this movie. The script works overtime to justify his actions as the lesser of evils, but some viewers will find them objectionable nonetheless (indeed, the uncensored film was rejected for theatrical release in China by censors). Chanís actual performance is adequate, but he hardly inhabits his role to the degree that his star power is eradicated. Heís complicit with a movie that might not celebrate his character outright, but certainly sympathizes with his plight to a questionable degree. 

     Still, it must be acknowledged (and the producers seem to have recognized) that most fans see a Jackie Chan movie for action. Their patience is rewarded nicely in Shinjuku Incidentís last half hour. There, action scenes dominate, as the film climaxes with an extended set piece featuring the katana-wielding Japanese Yakuza as they assault the Chinese mobís headquarters. This is a thrilling sequence, resolving plot tensions as it generates genuine suspense. Itís the only action sequence in the movie that warrants comparison to Chanís previous work (and Chan himself is responsible for only a small part of its success), but itís satisfying in the context of the movie. 

     Shinjuku Incident strains for social significance, but it is too timidly produced to risk depicting any recognizable reality. The movie unquestionably fails as an expose. It is far too candy colored and too audience-baiting to warrant comparisons to a more serious-minded film like Gomorrah. Still, as a standard-issue gangster melodrama, it makes up for such lapses with entertainment value. Even as its disparate pieces fail to hang together, Shinjuku Incidentís attempt to aspire to greater goals while remaining within the bounds of popular entertainment is at least somewhat admirable.



Jeremy Heilman