By G. Michael Dobbs
Jackie Chan's new film is the subject of this week's DVD review.
"Shinjuku Incident" may certainly be a disappointment to Jackie Chan fans who expect silly comedy and stunt-filled action. Instead, they are going to find a very serious film dealing with illegal immigration and organized crime.
In an interview included in the DVD's extras, Chan said he would like to extend his career as an actor and director, like Clint Eastwood. To do so, he has to take on more dramatic roles and clearly this is a step in that direction.
With the success of the re-make of "The Karate Kid," American audiences are starting to see this new Jackie Chan, but he has been around for awhile -- in his Chinese movies.
Chan tried a straight drama in his 1993 film "Crime Story," and returned to it with his performance as a failed alcoholic cop in "New Police Story." His burglar character from "Rob-B-Hood," was also a departure from his standard good guy parts.
In his recent American films he has reverted to his standard screen persona, such as in "The Spy Next Door." The sad thing is his more interesting films, such as "New Police Story" and "The Myth" haven't received any theatrical release here though they eventually come out on home video.
If you're a fan of Chinese cinema or of Chan, I recommend adding those two productions to your Netflix list.
"Shinjuku Incident" tells the story of Nick, a Chinese tractor mechanic who illegally comes to Japan to search for his girlfriend, Xiu Xiu, years after she immigrates to find fame and fortune. Although at age 56, Chan is a tad too old for this role, he delivers a moving under-stated performance as a man who is attempting to do the right thing, but whose choices are limited.
Once in Japan, Nick encounters prejudice from the Japanese plus the challenges that come from being an illegal alien. Nick lives on the streets until he meets a friend from back home, Joe, who introduces him to a group of a largely Chinese illegals all living in a communal home.
Struggling to find any meaningful work, while working in a sewer he rescues the life of a sympathetic police officer. He also sees his one-time girlfriend, now the wife of a powerful Japanese mobster, Eguchi.
Although resistant at first to do anything against the law, Nick eventually begins stealing and scamming. When he saves Eguchi's life, he's given the crime territory of the would-be assassin. Eguchi is not being generous. He plans to use Nick and his Chinese gang as pawns in his game to take over leadership of the mob.
Director Derek Yee handles this gritty drama pretty well, although there are moments in which the passing of time is not presented well and creates a little confusion.
For instance, the audience has no idea Xiu Xiu has been gone as long has she has before Nick begins his search for her and until we see her young daughter, who is about six or seven years old.
Overall, though, this is an above average crime drama that plays out in the same vein as the classic gangster films from the 1930s such as "Public Enemy" or "Little Caesar."
One note of caution: there are several moments of graphic violence that are also very uncharacteristic for previous Jackie Chan films.
And Chan demonstrates that he not only has a place in cinema history as one of world's best action stars, but also as an effective dramatic performer.
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