Wednesday, June 16, 2010

Shinjuku Incident - 4/5

Despite what America wants you to believe, Jackie Chan CAN MAKE GOOD MOVIES. Hollywood just likes to water him down into a goofy family friendly stunt comedian rather than an actor. Proof of this? "Shinjuku Incident". A Chinese film with political, social, and psychological ramifications that mirrors itself on great gangster films like "Scarface".

A Chinese illegal immigrant nick named Steelhead (or in the subtitled version I watched Nick (?!?)) gets to Japan looking for his childhood love from his home village who moved there years prior. Of course, being illegally there, he must do some underhanded jobs to make it by, which eventually leads him into some illegal activities like stealing. This leads him into conflict with some Yakuza leaders whom see his leadership and ambition as a tool to their own agendas. Soon he has to make a choice whether or not sacrificing his morals for the safety and love of his new 'family' is worth the price in the end.

So its pretty obvious the connections that can be made to another gangster rise story "Scarface" even from that synopsis. Many seem to criticize this film for being too close, when I'm not sure that's necessarily true. Although the plot points may be close to being true film to film, the political and historical sides are completely separate and its the ideology of our lead character that makes these films feel different. I love the setting of underground Japan and the differences between Chinese and Japanese cultures that sets the stage for our rise and fall protagonist. Its a lot like watching a a modern "Chinese Connection" for those purposes. And the cultural side of this film is somewhat fascinating to watch.

I also loved Jackie Chan in this film. He gets to strut his dramatic stuff here quite heavily and he does it admirably. The action is relatively light here and most of it happens with him as more of a referee than as a stuntman in the middle which is a nice change of pace for the film. His character is sympathetic and engaging and he holds his own with this. It was a real treat to watch him (finally) do something worth seeing that isn't "The Spy Next Door".

If anything, "Shinjuku Incident" suffers from a lack of budget. Some of the action sequences, such as when his friend Joe gets his arm cut off by a rival gang, seems rather hokey with the special effects they have and instead of coming off as a serious and impactful moment (despite some great acting) it comes off rather humorous unintentionally. It happens a few other times in this film with the budget too and it just mistakenly takes the film away from its raw and realistic attempts.

"Shinjuku Incident" was a fairly solid film that shows Chan in a way that most Americans don't normally see him. He has always done some great dramas to go with his action films and comedies and its nice to see one get to the US that shows us what he can do. It is rather epic and heavy on the drama so don't expect much from his usual stunt work focused films. Its a great companion piece to some of his other dramatic roles like "Crime Story" that deserve more attention then they get.

BONUS RANT: I'm not sure who developed the title card or cover for the US release but they should be shot. They make it look action packed and more like a sleek crime action film when its not. The cover with the three faces in the ribbons is much better. Its deceptive to get more people to see the film and more will dislike it from wrong advertising than anything else. 

Written By Matt Reifschneider

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