When is a Jackie Chan movie not a “Jackie Chan” movie?

The following post originally appeared on Geek Force Network on June 7, 2013.


Minor spoilers ahead, mostly in picture form.

Several nights ago, watching a kung fu movie sounded like a great way to end an exhausting day. We perused the, um, interesting variety of motion pictures available on Crackle and found an unfamiliar Jackie Chan movie: Shinjuku Incident (2009). Here’s what Crackle promises of the movie:

“Jackie Chan plays against his ‘one man army’ persona and enlists his own troops to lead a modern day peasant revolt.”

Sounds…uh, intriguing?

Jackie Chan is a welcome fixture in our house.  I wouldn’t go as far as to call myself a Jackie Chan fanatic, but Rumble in the Bronx is on my list of “desert island” movies. We have a fair number of Chan’s movies in the ol’ DVD collection, including his one of his greatest movies, and a great, all-around kung fu movie, Legend of Drunken Master. Like so many other movie-goers, I thoroughly enjoy his signature mix of martial arts and humor. In addition to Rumble and Drunken Master, Mr. Nice Guy rounds out my top three Jackie Chan favorites.

But back to Shinjuku Incident. Admittedly, much of Chan’s more recent fare has escaped my view, so it wasn’t much of a surprise to come across something from him that was completely new to me. Not knowing a thing about Shinjuku or what apparently happened there, but being in the mood for some great action and high-flying artistry, we decided to go for it.

What we got was…was…well, not a “Jackie Chan” movie. Shjnjuku Incident focused the plight of Chinese immigrants in Japan and the discrimination they faced. Chan starred as a Chinese tractor repairman called Steelhead who makes his way into Japan to find his missing girlfriend. While his time there starts out innocently enough, Steelhead and his band of merry (not really) illegal immigrants soon found themselves perpetrating petty crimes to make ends meet. As Steelhead moved closer to locating his girlfriend and attempted to become a legal citizen, his actions somehow, eventually, led to dangerous and deadly dealings with the Yakuza and other gangs. Around the edges were a well-meaning Japanese detective, a pretty Japanese girl to help the immigrants “fit in,” and a messy exploration of Japanese subcultures.

ShinjukuIncidentseveredarm
Oh, and this happened. (source)
ShinjukuIncident2
And this. (source)
Shinjuku incident3
Also this. (source)

When the movie was over, I was confused. No crazy stunts. No insanely entertaining martial arts. No laughably awkward moments. In fact, no humor whatsoever. How dare Jackie Chan go against type and make a crazy thriller/drama? How dare he promote criminal activities and have sad, unfulfilled sex with hookers!! How dare he portray a seedy low-life rather than an upstanding citizen with secret ninja skills!! Really, the nerve!

No smiles here. No a one! (source)
No smiles here. Not a one! (source)

Yeah. That was my initially indignant reaction. I wanted my two hours back with extra kung fu. However, after the “spite” receded, I started thinking about how wonky the movie was. How it veered off into some awfully strange directions without so much as a glance back. After a particularly odd and jarring scene change, I turned to my husband and said, “are we even watching the same movie?” Shinjuku Incident was not a bad movie, but it wasn’t very cohesive. The plot felt very loose and unresolved, and there were plenty of elements that made little sense. From almost the start, the movie cast a long, dark shadow. Despite knowing better, I kept waiting for those classic moments of “Jackie Chan” brevity and fun to show up, but they never arrived. I’m sure the movie holds its place in Asian cinema; and yeah, it was interesting watching Chan stretch his acting chops, but…

but…

…oh, but nothing.  Shinjuku Incident is decent enough, but it isn’t billed as a kung fu movie. (It’s a Derek Yee film. I’d only heard of him but not seen his other works.) I just assumed that it was since Chan’s name was attached. I’m the dolt here for holding so close that assumption.  This movie is what it is, and it is eye-opening to see how discrimination works in another culture. If your goal in life is to watch every Jackie Chan movie, then have at. Chan’s a fine actor, but I’d much rather see him saving the less-than-fortunate as a one man army of martial artistry in a “Jackie Chan” movie.

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