Jackie Chan. He’s a bit of a legend really. Not many actors can claim to have a successful singing career and an animated TV show to their name (David Hasselhoff’s appearance in SpongeBob doesn’t count), but Jackie has found success at pretty much every turn, and even his uneven Hollywood career has produced the occasional gem. You know what you’re getting with a Jackie Chan picture, and fans of his work wouldn’t have it any other way.
The king of kung fu comedy has mastered the art of action, the art of animation and the art of music (kind of), but now he faces his biggest challenge yet. Can Jackie master the art of serious drama? Derek Yee’s Shinjuku Incident attempts to answer that question, and not since Crime Story has Jackie appeared so restrained. What we have here is a new side of the Jackie Chan coin, but is this what the fans are looking for? Or can it be compared to David Hasselhoff’s American comeback concert, where O.J. Simpson stole the limelight - not to mention all the viewing figures - with his low speed pursuit across California.
Jackie Chan plays Steelhead, a Chinese farmer who illegally travels to Japan in search of his childhood sweetheart Xiu Xiu (Xu Jinglei). Here he meets Jie (Daniel Wu) and they form an immediate bond, working for peanuts and avoiding Imperial entanglements at every turn. Steelhead finds an ally within the police force when he saves the life of inspector Kitano (Naoto Takenaka). Kitano offers support for the remainder of the movie, keeping a watchful eye on his friend’s progress up the gangster hierarchy.
The ladder he climbs leads to the dark side of course, but this is still a Jackie Chan movie, so he’s not going to let his fan base down by getting too mean and moody. He still has a heart and his actions are always anchored by questionable morals and a sense of compassion. Daniel Wu on the other hand is a coward, and that is made clear from the outset. His character has a tough time of it here, made all the more apparent by the film's final act. Daniel Wu handles the role well enough, though it has been argued that his make-up and hairpiece put in a better performance than he does.
The film works best in the first hour; it’s a slow burner for sure, punctuated by the occasional burst of onscreen violence. It’s here that we get to know the characters at the heart of the movie, including welcome support from Jack Kao, Paul Chun and Lam Suet. Events jumps forward in time for the final act and the film almost fall apart. It’s all very enjoyable as the film erupts in an orgy of violence, but at times motivation is found wanting.
Chan doesn’t always convince, probably because it’s Jackie Chan we’re talking about here, but some of the supporting players lack conviction too. With the exception of Daniel Wu - his gutless character is one of the few that feels rounded - some of the changes in personality don’t hold true, and are merely present to service a violent and bloody conclusion. Yes, I accept that we’ve skipped forward in time, but some of the characters are unrecognisable in the final act and motivation is paper thin. I’m all for a an action packed finale, but one that holds true to the rest of the picture is crucial, surely?
Shinjuku Incident is a slow burner for the most part, but it’s also incredibly engaging. We’re not in The Godfather territory here, but for a Jackie Chan movie it feels like a welcome breath of fresh air. Jackie’s performance won’t threaten the likes of Al Pacino but I’m pretty sure his fans weren’t expecting it too. What he have is a welcome change of pace for Asia’s biggest export, he even bags himself a sex scene.
Derek Yee has crafted an entertaining, if not exceptional, gangland drama. If this is a sign of things to come then so be it, Jackie clearly has a future in film after all. As for David Hasselhoff, there's always the ongoing speculation about a Baywatch movie to fall back on. Let's just hope O.J. Simpson doesn’t get out of prison anytime soon. AW