Story: Steelhead (Jackie Chan) hasn't heard from his girlfriend Xiu Xiu (Xu Jinglei), who went to Japan, for a while already and
he starts to get seriously worried. He decides to go to Japan as an illegal immigrant with a group of other Chinese, but it's only
when he gets there that he realizes how hard life is in Japan for a Chinese. He struggles through life with jobs that earn him a poor
pay and is warned by his friend Jie (Daniel Wu) of the local Yakuza who are in the midst of a power struggle. However, Steelhead and his
immigrant friends decide to do some small illegal business and so Steelhead runs into Yakuza boss Eguchi (Masaya Kato) whose wife is
no one different than Xiu Xiu. By chance he saves Eguchi's life who now wants to repay him by offering him to work for his organisation.
Steelhead agrees and as a reward gets a small district in Tokyo as his turf. But despite the warnings of his new girlfriend Lily (Fan Bingbing)
things get more and more out of control and even Inspector Kitano (Naoto Takenaka), whose life Steelhead had saved on another occasion,
can't just sit there and watch anymore how the power shifts to the worse in Tokyo...
Review: The story of "Shinjuku Incident" sounds like the premise for some impressive Jackie Chan stunts and numerous
fights. But Jackie Chan doesn't just play Jackie Chan like he always does! In fact, Steelhead doesn't know any kung fu at all and also
isn't anyone who likes to goof around whenever he has the chance. Chan tries to deliver some serious acting in this movie and to change
his image. Not a bad idea at all, considering that Chan isn't really that young anymore and if he wants to stay in front of the camera
will have to turn to something different than letting himself get kicked over the screen. His attempt to operate in the drama genre can
only be called successful to a limited extent. Another actor most likely could have given the character Steelhead more layers who now
seem to be neglected when looking at the rather complex individual that he is supposed to be. However, Chan also hasn't got an easy job
because everyone still sees Jackie Chan in him! Nonetheless, "Shinjuku Incident" is still a well done gangster thriller with its upsides
which actually make it an enrichment for Hong Kong cinema.
Derek Yee surely isn't a no-name among Hong Kong directors as he has been responsible for the also very dark "One Night in Mongkok", the wonderful romantic drama "Lost in Time" or "2 Young". This time his movie revolves around a group of illegal Chinese immigrants in Tokyo so that the story has almost the nature of a milieu study at the beginning. The insterted info text at the end also proves that Yee wanted to put a lot of emphasis on this aspect of the story. This also makes the drama around a Chinese immigrant the more captivating and saves "Shinjuku Incident" from becoming just a simple Yakuza thriller.
Sadly, as the events unfold the story proves to be told rather uneven and doesn't seem thought-through. In fact, the best scenes in the film are those in which Yee concentrates more on his characters. Still, you get the feeling that you could have told the story more tightly. Two hours seem to be a little bit too long so that we don't always get the desired homogeneity and moreover the film shifts between different pacings.
Another problem is that Chan doesn't really work as the ambivalent character he is supposed to be. He saves lives as in the case of Inspector Kitano but he is as unyielding when it comes to taking lives. That Steelhead is therefore one of the bad guys too, completely eludes the audience, most likely because good guy Chan plays the part. Daniel Wu ("Protégé", "New Police Story") on the other hand manages to bring more drama into the movie. He is a coward, additionally is followed by bad luck so that he undergoes an extreme change eventually. Wu can show his role's diversity to it's best advantage even if his japan (visual kei) glamrock appearance at the end almost has something comic-like about it.
The cast is complemented by some familiar faces that enhance the film's quality a lot. Of course there are Fan Bingbing or Milkyway-regular Lam Suet in a nice supporting role but there are also a lot of Japanese actors like Masaya Kato ("Fighter in the Wind", "Samurai Resurrection") who manages very well to depict an ambivalent character or Naoto Takenaka ("Swing Girls", "Waterboys") as the charismatic but serious police inspector normally cast in more funny roles.
Derek Yee makes good use of the city Tokyo as his chosen setting so that the movie feels like a mix of a Hong Kong triad movie and a yakuza film with a tendency to the first. The pictures are often very gritty and the level of violence is put to good use as an instrument to shock the audience at certain points. Yee should have concentrated more on the characters because in the few moments he does the audience really feels emotionally involved and moved. In this respect a few of the small brawls or the almost epic showdown seem nearly out of place. Moreover, "Shinjuku Incident" feels so much like Hong Kong cinema that we don't expect anything like a happy end from the middle of the movie's running time onwards which makes it even the more unfortunate that Yee didn't put more focus on the elaboration of the multylayered individuals. Nevertheless, the action scenes absolutely manage to get the adrenaline pumped up. In technical respect the movie doesn't need to hide anyway because there has been quite some money on hand for this production.
"Shinjuku Incident" is an ambitious film which would have been well advised to shift its focus on just one of its themes. That is because the immigrant drama and the gangland theme can't balance each other. It's also unfortunate that the movie loses itself in the commercially more appealing gangland genre especially towards the finale so that some decisions of the characters seem pretty questionable or even incomprehensible because of lack of character elaboration. You can see that Chan makes quite some effort concerning his portrayal of Steelhead but someone like Anthony Wong or Lau Ching-Wan without a doubt could have delivered a more complex one. Nonetheless, "Shinjuku Incident" remains an entertaining and dark thriller which can score thanks to its immigrant theme. Yee can't really satisfy with his end product in some respects but he still delivers a movie that is good enough to make you think about the subject for a short while and at the same time you get a worthwhile Hong Kong movie.