Sunday, August 15, 2010

Don't-Miss DVD: an unusual Jackie Chan in Yee Tung-Shing's SHINJUKU INCIDENT

The ironies fly fast and nasty in SHINJUKU INCIDENT -- even more so as the movie progresses -- and the greatest of these is that this 2009 film, the best movie Jackie Chan has made in a decade or two (for me, one of his best ever), is probably his least seen here in the US. A dark and violent melodrama, it puts to shame most of the slop Chan has made for Hollywood studios. Were there any justice in movieland, the film would catapult him to permanent fame and fixture in "wonderland."  From the outset, as the camera pans across a large ship that has foundered on the Japanese coast, with a load of Chinese immigrants making their way to shore, it is soon clear that Japan could stand in for the USA and our own "immigration" problem, as could these huddled masses for those day laborers grouped on street corners here in Queens, in the greater Los Angeles area, and elsewhere throughout the USA, waiting and hoping for any kind of work

Chan (shown below) plays one of these immigrants, and to see him in a serious role for a change is a wonder-
ful thing.  He fills it with such genuine concern and an initial sense of fair play and decency, followed by the growing ability to bargain and com-
promise, that one hopes he'll never have to return to making schlock again.  Shinjuku Incidient is filled with details of the lives of these immig-
rants, their Japanese police pursuers, and the various crime mobs -- Taiwan-ese, Chinese, Vietnamese and Japan-
ese -- all overseen by the Yakuza. The movie's a melodrama -- and a damn good one -- which its co-writer (with Chun Tin Nam) and director Yee Tung-Shing (shown at left), the wri-
ter/director of One Nite in Mongkok who is also known as Derek Yee, has filled with well-chosen incidents intelligently executed, using just the right measure of history, sentiment and cynicism.  In the course of the film, Chan become a day worker, a smart thief, a prominent figure of sorts (and more) before the final credits roll.
Call it the adventures of an illegal immigrant, Asian-style.

There is coincidence here, of course, but that's one of the joys of good melodrama: This is much easier to accept and appreciate than when it unexpectedly rears its head in a more "serious" film like this week's debut, Animal Kingdom. Not that Shinjuku Incident is not serious, dealing as it does with family, love (the endearing Fan Bingbing, below) and loss, present and past, and or course crimi-
nality and politics.  When the police chief discovers certain politici-
ans involved with the criminals, and his underling appears to be shocked, "Don't be so naive, " he tells the young man.  "Gangs, Yakuza, show biz. It's all the same thing nowadays.  They call it Capitalism."

For a Chan piece, the movie takes several unusual turns, with our hero becoming a not-quite-so good guy, a Triad member and more. Considering its full two-hour running time, the plot proceeds like a house afire toward its alarming, unsettling goal, in the course of which, the film explores both prejudice and the various motivations to power: unchecked desires, envy, revenge. The latter is exhibited in a sub-plot involving the sweetest fellow in the bunch (curly-wigged Daniel Wu, below), whose outcome is also the saddest. The moral lessons offered are pretty inescapable: Once you're in the game, you're never out. And when you lie down with dogs, expect to get up with fleas.

Shinjuku Incident is available now on DVD for purchase or rental.

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