Killer Imports: Shinjuku Incident

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Killer Imports is a regular feature on Film Junk where we explore foreign-language films from around the world that haven’t yet had their chance to shine.

See Jackie Chan drive a farm tractor on an iced, shallow pond and fall through! That’s the only promotional blurb I can think of to sell this latest Jackie Chan movie to a Jackie Chan audience. Shinjuku Incident marks Jackie Chan’s first full attempt at a dramatic role. His role in the 2004 New Police Story movie was more of a transitory role in which he got to do some emoting as a drunken cop and for which he received a Best Actor nomination by the Hong Kong Film Awards and a win by the Golden Rooster Awards. And although there is action in this movie with gangs fighting each other, Jackie’s trademark stunts and fighting skills are nowhere to be seen. Instead of Jackie dealing out the punishment, we see him taking the punishment much more than usual.

Jackie portrays a farm tractor repairman who enters Japan illegally to find his missing girlfriend Xiu Xiu (Xu Jinglei). While he is in Japan, he meets up with a good friend Jie (Daniel Wu) from his hometown and other illegal Chinese immigrants, befriends the Yakuza leader Eguchi (Masaya Kato), and rises to prominence in the Shinjuku district. His friendship with Japanese police detective Kitano (Naoto Takenaka) complicates matters. The Japanese prostitute/bar hostess Lily (Fan Bingbing) also plays an important role.

The movie takes its background setting from the historical significance of an influx of illegal Chinese immigrants into Japan in the ’90s. This was something that I was unaware of. I had thought that the enmity between the Chinese and Japanese as a result of the Japanese invasion of China during the World War II years had dissipated somewhat. In this movie, we see a more benign invasion reversal, yet human nature being as it is, some Japanese people of a recent generation have developed hatred. The frequent news reports of illegal Chinese immigrants probably fueled the hatred. I do find it strange that some Chinese would choose to go to Japan with the awareness that they are not welcome, but I suppose the allure of a better life would make people bear the occasional insult and overcome the fear of being caught someplace where they were not supposed to be.

The overt racism is apparently ignored by Japanese authorities since there are nightclubs displaying signs saying that Chinese are not allowed entry. I recall the scene in one of Bruce Lee’s movies where he is not allowed entry into a park that displays a sign saying that Chinese and dogs are not allowed. I love dogs, but to equate an ethnic group with an animal species seems like a huge insult. Bruce Lee’s character’s reaction to the sign is to kick the sign off the wall and then kick the sign into pieces in the air. It’s no wonder that Bruce Lee instantly became a hero to the Chinese. I’m sure dogs elatedly barked in unison as well.

To be fair, the Chinese are not shown in a totally positive light as they are shown taking advantage of Japanese trust by stealing from the marketplace. And in-fighting within the group of illegal Chinese immigrants is just as evident and violent as within the Japanese Yakuza.

It is interesting how illegal Chinese immigrant women are accepted as wives in Yakuza households. The uproar over the roles in Memoirs of a Geisha taken by Chinese women seems less relevant in light of this revelation. (I’m being somewhat sarcastic in that last statement.)

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The plot does unfold with too many coincidences, which is a usual lament of movie critics. I was fine with what happens as the drama kept me watching nevertheless. Be prepared for no humor though. The gang fight scenes are done with a minimum of flair with the exception of one short slow motion sequence. I must admit that I was expecting a more powerful climax.

In keeping with Jackie’s much mentioned obligation as a role-model to his fans, the character he plays is decent and his rise to gang prominence is done with the noblest of intentions even though he does do things that are not lawful for which he regrets but for which he is willing to accept the consequences. At film awards held by China, Taiwan, and Hong Kong, Jackie Chan has been receiving nominations and wins for his acting in his action films since 1985 for Project A all the way up to 2005 for the aforementioned New Police Story. I suspect that these awards are awarded with popularity in mind. With all due respect, I don’t think Jackie will be receiving an Oscar for his acting anytime soon although I do think he is competent at doing what this role demands. And for those keeping tabs, Jackie along with Daniel Wu is fearless when it comes to displaying full rear nudity.

I recognized the actor Masaya Kato, who portrayed a Yakuza leader, from a film called The Last Supper based on a novel by Kei Ohishi, who also wrote the novelization of the film Ju-On: The Grudge. In The Last Supper, Kato portrayed a cannibalistic plastic surgeon / chef. I’m guessing this somewhat obscure reference will probably have no relevance to anyone reading this except to indicate the somewhat obscure films I sometimes watch. If you ever happen to come across the DVD cover for The Last Supper, then you’ll understand what attracted me to this bargain bin find.

The director Derek Yee has also been an actor, writer, and producer with his acting starting in the mid-70s. He has received recent acclaim for his directing of One Night in Mongkok in 2004 and Protégé in 2007. I did see Protégé, but I can’t say it was memorable even though someone at Dragon Dynasty thought it deserved to be released by them.

I generally haven’t appreciated the recent slew of Chinese crime dramas that have attracted attention with the most notable being Infernal Affairs that generated a remake from Martin Scorsese. I’ve noticed other reviews not having much affection for Shinjuku Incident, so I feel reasonably confident in not recommending this movie even though I’m more inclined to recommend one see this film to judge for oneself. Unfortunately, I found it hard to find reasons to see this film. Perhaps this film will be remembered for having Jackie Chan’s first sex scene.

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  • Big Hungry

    Interesting review Reed. So I have to ask the question… how did you find this movie? And how much did you pay or not pay for this movie? (Just listened to the latest and greatest Cantankerous). I found the dvd on Amazon for $24.99 and I am not sure if it is worth that much coin.

    I do consider Jackie Chan the Asian George Clooney. As far as being a top notch first class guy and all around appearance of being nice to everyone around him.

  • That’s a very apt comparison of Jackie Chan to George Clooney, Big Hungry.

    I’m always uncomfortable revealing my source for most of the movies I review. For the record, I have never downloaded a movie from the Internet. I wish I could say I was sent a free screener copy from the distributor. I did pay some money for it, but I doubt Jackie Chan will profit from my purchase. At least he’ll get some free advertising on Film Junk.

    From my review, you should realize that you shouldn’t expect a regular Jackie Chan movie. I would never tell anyone to not watch a film. If you have $25 to spare, then I’d say go for it, but I’m not giving a positive recommendation. I think I am in agreement with the few reviews I did read for this film.