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In China, the poor worker Tietou repairs tractors and misses his sweetheart Xiu Xiu, back in Japan, she having never sent any news to her family or him. While illegally emigrating to Japan, Tietou loses his Chinese documents and so cannot return to his country. He is welcomed by his countrymen who lodge and work in Shinjuku where they also help him to find illegal work. While running from a police raid through the sewage system where Chinese are illegally working, Tietou saves Inspector Kitano from drowning in the dirty water. Later, after an incident with his cousin, Joe, and a Taiwan gang, Tietou saves the powerful Yakuza boss Toshinari Eguchi. He is the husband of Xiu Xiu, who is now called Yuko and are parents of a little daughter. The mobster offers a dirty job to Tietou; in retribution, he promises to deliver the quarter dominated by the Taiwan gang to him. Tietou becomes the boss of the Chinese illegal immigrants. But his peaceful methods make him unpopular and Tietou starts to... Written by
Claudio Carvalho, Rio de Janeiro, Brazil
Contrary to many, at least outside the US, I was introduced to Jackie Chan through Rumble in the Bronx. It was his first big hit in the US, and it ushered in a bunch of other Chan films (i.e. Superop, First Strike) into theaters. It was invigorating to see someone with Chan's skills as a fighter, using martial arts like a dancer and doing it all (sometimes painfully) himself. Then audiences could dig in to one of two things: his previous catalog of work from Hong Kong (i.e. Police Story series, Drunken Master), or films like Rush Hour and Shanghai Noon/Knights and his stint in Hollywood. But now he's in his mid-50's, and one wonders if we might see the last of Chan as a real action-oriented star, especially considering forgettable drek like The Spy Next Door is still playing in theaters.
But there is perhaps some hope, and coming in part from Chan himself (for this film he's exec-producer). In The Shinjuku Incident, we see a step forward for Chan in being simply a dramatic actor, as opposed to doing tons of fights and martial arts. Sure, there's still a few stunts to pull in the film, but nothing more than hitting someone with a stick or chopping off a hand really "happens" in terms of the stunts (or, of course, running). Chan is at the service of the story as an actor, and maybe we'll see more of these thrillers or dramas with him as the star; whether they range from greatness to crap is left to be seen. Shinjuku Incident is a nice step in a direction quite removed from The Spy Next Door, and is worth seeing for Chan first, then as a decent Yakuza movie.
The premise has Chan, as a character nicknamed "Steelhead" for his work early on in the film as a laborer, coming to Japan to work menial jobs and find a girl he knew in his village. But he also needs to become a legal citizen (there's a lot of illegals coming into Japan, we learn, as it's the 1990's before China's economic boom), and soon becomes absorbed into a life of crime. Or rather, he does a couple of jobs- one especially for revenge for a friend whose hand was cut off- and ascends to become head of a triad. The story mechanics are a little complicated at times- you do have to pay attention to who is in charge where or who has a vendetta against someone else (in the last third it becomes clearer and more focused to understand)- and the characters are well laid out.
As far as being quite original, I'm not sure. These sorts of stories and ideas have been dealt with before, and none other than Takashi Miike has made a career in part on doing stories about Yakuzai and/or Triad gangs (his first film was even called Shinjuku Triad Society, and concerns a similar theme present in this film: China vs. Japan gangs). And by the end the drama is a bit forced, and a resolution involving a USB is a little circumspect, just as a contrivance really. But it's competently told and filmed by Tung-Shing Yee, who has a history with crime films, and he can always come back to his star when he needs a strong dramatic lead (not that some of the other actors, like the one playing the amputee with a facial scar who becomes a drug dealer, don't do their best too).
I was surprised by how moving Chan could be, if not as memorable as in his Drunken Master days, and it's a good sign of things to come as he goes on in years. It's a small, exciting movie with no big surprises and some interesting dramatic beats.
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