Disclosure: A common question often asked in profiles and interviews is the following:
“Which 5 people, living or dead, would you like to have at a dinner party?”
I’ve never bothered with considering a list in depth but one person that I guarantee would be there if I had my way is Jackie Chan. There were always 2 photos that I carried in my wallet throughout my twenties, my wife (then girlfriend) and a tattered card of the Jackie Chan film Rumble in the Bronx that I got from a video shop and put in as a joke, only it never left.
Since I originally discovered Jackie in a video shop in my early teens I have obsessively watched everything he has made, including The Medallion and The Tuxedo (both were awful and I knew this going in). The reward early on was such masterpieces as the Police Story series, Wheels on Meals and Dragons Forever, and the list could go on. I have Jackie Chan bios, his autobiography and a signed photo, where the authenticity is dubious at best.
My favourite cinema event in my life was when I and a friend that I was living with at the time decided to go a double bill without really knowing much about the films, (this was pre-internet kids) and saw Hard Boiled and Drunken Master 2, which I still regard as the best martial arts film of all time. It was an awesome night and by the time DM2 finished the oohs and aahs during the closing fight scenes were replaced by straight up cheers. Afterwards as we all spilled out onto the pavement the spontaneous but uncoordinated kung fu began and lasted until we stumbled home.
So what does all that mean? Basically it is me saying that even though I am continuously nervous when Mr Chan released a new film these days, I still will watch it and probably give some of his more recent efforts higher ratings than they perhaps deserve, based upon career achievement (and rose coloured cinema glasses) if you will.
Jackie is now in his mid 50s and I would argue that he has at least earned that from me.
Shinjuku Incident (no “the) starts with scenes of a ship that has run aground, the passengers are all fleeing both to shore and beyond, as we learn afterwards it is a vessel carrying illegal visitors to Japan. Jackie is aboard, for some reason here he is called Steelhead, and he and many other illegals end up in the seedy gambling, prostitution and nightclub district of Shinjuku.
We learn why Steelhead has made the decision to go to Japan in flashback, long story short he is chasing his chickie who was allowed to leave impoverished China due to family linkage. This was a China before the recent massive economic upturn, where those farming the land were extremely poor.
During the first half of the film Steelhead struggles to come to terms with seeing those who break the law make a lot of money, while those like him doing dangerous scab labour and menial tasks strive long and hard for little. He remains largely honourable and works hard, and being a Jackie Chan movie he sticks up for others being oppressed or attacked and saves a couple of people including a cop from disaster.
This all changes when he spots his ex-China missus in Japan with some mobster guy Geisha-ing it up. Steelhead decides that he needs to get his stubby fingers on some quick cash and he thereafter goes into crime….
The results of Steelhead and his newly formed gang are mixed at best, not having the backing of the triads or Yakuza means that if someone is caught they are pretty much screwed, something that happens to his nice-guy buddy Jai on more than one occasion, despite the fact that he initially swore off a life of crime. The poor bloke loses a hand and basically gets sliced up in two separate incidents spanning a short period of time, enough to annoy anyone I would think.
Of course Steelhead goes for revenge for Jai with his gang, and ultimately decides that he needs support from one of the rival gangs, so he agrees to kill two mob bosses in exchange for territory for his gang.
If you’ve read this far you know that Crime Doesn’t Pay (I hope!), and that Steelhead and his gang are doomed to learn a lesson. Steelhead struggles to go straight as his former friends drift further and further into the crime world, and the finale has a massive gang war pitting the Chinese Vs Japanese gangs, into which Jackie becomes entangled.
Shinjuku Incident is more violent than any other Jackie Chan film that I can remember, including the crappy US film The Protector from the 80s, but it doesn’t have a single roundhouse kick or a quick combination of punches, nor does Jackie roll out of the way of a dangerous falling object or leap over a moving car.
There are no jokes, no mugging for the camera, no multiple angles of massive stunts, everything is played straight.
And when you have a guy in his mid 50s trying to make an action film steroid free, I think that it the most we can expect.
Action heroes have a limited life expectancy unless they are in comic book form. Sportsmen move into the media once their playing career is over, media stars move into management and some action heroes either go more violent (Stallone) or govern California (can’t remember who).
The glory days of Jackie Chan are unfortunately long gone, something that at least he more than Sylvester Stallone realises, but you can always whip out one of 20 classic Jackie DVDs and relive his glory again and again. While Shinjuku Incident is by no means bad, I suggest that that is what you should probably do from now on.
Final Rating – 6.5 / 10. An OK movie made better by Jackie’s presence but diminished because he can no longer thrill like he once did.