'Shinjuku Incident'

Ethnic Chinese gangs stumble as they cross swords with the Japanese mafia in Jackie Chan starrer "Shinjuku Incident," an over-ambitious, narratively untidy urban crimer.

Ethnic Chinese gangs stumble as they cross swords with the Japanese mafia in Jackie Chan starrer “Shinjuku Incident,” an over-ambitious, narratively untidy urban crimer. Though hyped as a rare straight dramatic outing by Chan, the pic still has him displaying his action skills, if less sensationally than usual. Some extreme violence and unsavory elements will provide a challenge for Chan’s wholesome fan base, but overall Asian B.O. should be robust. Following its opening-night slot in the Hong Kong fest, the film goes out locally (and in Southeast Asia) April 2, followed by Japan a month later.

The film’s strong violence and Tokyo setting will play especially well with Japanese auds, with whom Chan is still popular. Business there may compensate for the loss of the China market, where the pic has been nixed by authorities due to its violence and depiction of malcontent mainlanders fleeing to Japan.

Story begins with Chinese refugees landing at Japan’s Wakasa Bay and chaotically running for shelter before immigration authorities arrive. Among the illegals is Steelhead (Chan), who heads to Tokyo to find his long-lost love, Xiuxiu (mainland thesp Xu Jinglei).

Hitting Tokyo’s red-light Shinjuku district, Steelhead teams up with fellow refugees, including Jie (Daniel Wu, electric) and Old Ghost (portly Johnnie To regular Lam Suet, effectively displaying his tough-guy shtick). Living off petty crime and grueling work that Japanese workers won’t touch, Jie and Old Ghost show Steelhead the ropes and warn him about crossing mobsters.

Steelhead discovers Xiuxiu has adopted a Japanese name, Yuko, and is now married to rising Japanese gangster Eguchi (Masaya Kato). Meanwhile, Jie pays a steep price for inadvertently antagonizing Taiwanese mobster Gao (Jack Kao).

Plot strands featuring gang rivalries and clashes are more tangled than interwoven. However, the yarn belatedly builds momentum with an intense middle section, undercut by an extended denouement.

Pic defiantly establishes a new dramatic frontier for Chan, who’s clearly the star and acquits himself admirably. However, a scene in which Steelhead visits a hooker with a heart of gold (mainland actress Fan Bingbing) is likely to be more problematic for his fans than any grisly violence.

Among several strong supporting players, Wu impresses with his ability to steer his character through major (and too sudden) transformations. On the Nipponese side, Naoto Takenaka is pitch-perfect as a cop who becomes indebted to Steelhead. Distaffers make much less impact: Fan’s prostie role is so slight it should have been excised at the script stage.

Derek Yee’s direction is strong within individual scenes but fails to mold the unwieldy script into a cohesive whole. As in Yee’s previous “Protege,” the depiction of gang life aims to explore the machinations of criminal orgs in depth. Drama and characterization both suffer as a result, leaving the pic far short of the “Election” or “Godfather”-like heights to which it aspires. Tech credits are solid, though Peter Kam’s score is intrusive.

Version caught at the Hong Kong fest was given a Category III rating by local censors, usually reserved for sex and extreme violence. Local-release version will be slightly edited for a milder Category IIb rating.

Shinjuku Incident

Hong Kong

Production

An Emperor Motion Pictures release of an Emperor Dragon Movies presentation of a Jackie Chan production. (International sales: Emperor Motion Pictures, Hong Kong.) Produced by Willie Chan, Solon So. Executive producers, Jackie Chan, Albert Yeung. Directed by Derek Yee. Screenplay, Yee, Chun Tin-nam.

Crew

Camera (color), Nobuyasu Kota; editors, Cheung Ka-fai, Kwong Chi-leung, Tang To-man; music, Peter Kam; production designer, Oliver Wong, Chin Kar-lok; action choreographer, Chin Kar-lok; sound (Dolby Digital). Reviewed at Hong Kong Film Festival (opener), March 22, 2009. Running time: 114 MIN. (Cantonese, Mandarin, Japanese, English dialogue)

With

Steelhead - Jackie Chan Inspector Kitano - Naoto Takenaka Jie - Daniel Wu Xiuxiu/Yuko - Xu Jinglei Lily - Fan Bingbing Gao Jie - Jack Kao Old ghost - Lam Suet Eguchi - Masaya Kato

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