Set in 1990s Shinjuku, Shinjuku Incident follows illegal immigrant Steelhead (Jackie Chan) and his life in Japan in the shadows. At first searching for his ex (Xu Jinglei) he ends up turning to a life of crime and comes to power in the underworld with the help of other illegal Chinese immigrants. As he and his adopted ‘brothers’ finally make a name for themselves will the oppressed become the oppressors and will the formidable Japanese yakuza stand for it?
Taking a break from the action genre, Jackie Chan stars in this surprisingly heavy drama about the trials of foreigners in Japan and the high cost of power and influence. Directed by veteran director Derek Yee, Shinjuku Incident suffers from a somewhat uneven tone from the get go. Seemingly unsure of what it wants to be, the film is part immigrant struggle, part yakuza film, and part character study. It never seems to successfully meld these elements together despite having strong aspects of each. The story is competently told but the flow and thematic structure just isn’t as polished as a crime saga should be.
Demonstrating some very solid acting, Chan plays his Steelhead role as someone who certainly loses a lot in life, in both material and intangible. His struggles early on make you root for him and the other immigrants but when they turn to a life of crime that softens more than a little. It’s the typical cautionary tale of a story like this and the darkness and seriousness was definitely weighty, especially towards the end of the film. Fan Bingbing is gorgeous as always and though her role lessens towards the end, she’s a welcome addition in any film. I was happy to see that familiar Japanese actors populated the film and the sheer presence of Masaya Kato, Yasuaki Kurata, and Naoto Takenaka in a Jackie Chan film was undeniably cool. The supporting cast is filled with familiar faces as well; Chin Kar Lok, Lam Suet, Ken Lo, and Daniel Wu all help the film, though Wu’s character really gets the short end of the stick and is typically tragic figure in these types of films.
As stated earlier, the film is light on action but does have a decent brawl towards the end. Not martial arts by any stretch but the desperation in a gang war is evident. The score is decent but ultimately forgettable. It serves its purpose and nothing more. Production is good with large sets and a very large cast populating most scenes. It is clear this was a big budget production and it is put to good use.
In the end, Shinjuku Incident is a competently told story of the migrant experience and the allure of crime and power to get more. With a story and direction that unfortunately cannot make use of such a terrific cast, the film feels more like your average gangster film than a movie filled with immeasurable HK talent. It’s a missed opportunity to not add more character and energy to this film. While not a bad film by any stretch, it squanders its strengths, namely that amazing cast, in telling a story that may have benefited from a less mainstream approach.
You may enjoy this film if you liked: Jiang Hu, Friend, and Bullet in the Head