Shinjuki Incident

A forgettable if generally honourable attempt to sculpt the compromises of power out of a police procedural.

In which the Charlie Chaplin of kung fu chances his arm as a serious actor. Jackie Chan pulls a straight face in this issue-driven crime drama to star as Steelhead, a Chinese farmer who goes to Tokyo in search of his former girlfriend. She, it turns out, is married to a local Yakuza and Steelhead must make his own way in a shanty full of illegal immigrants. Work, when it comes, is humiliating: combing rubbish tips and traipsing through sewers. Worse are the inviolable chains of criminal patronage. When a young friend is beaten up by a restaurateur with mob connections, Steelhead snaps and gathers his crew of fellow immigrants into a gang of his own, upsetting the delicate power structures in Tokyo's underworld. What follows is a rambling fable on the compromises of power dressed in the clothes of a gritty police procedural. Chan at least deserves applause for setting aside his usual crutches: there's no clowning and his action sequences are grimly non-virtuoso. Yet he convinces as the strong, silent, soulfully charismatic type. Who knew he had it in him? There's impressive support, too, from Daniel Wu as a luckless chestnut seller turned lost-soul junkie in Harajuku threads. This metamorphosis is, like much of the film, badly underwritten but Wu throws himself into it, acquitting himself with honour. For the most part, though, Derek Yee's script is clumsy and his direction is cheap and televisual. The immigrant experience is often a rich seam for gangster flicks; if you want proof from 2009, try Jaques Audiard's Un Prophète. Alas, this particular incident can safely be swept under the carpet.

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