This latest movie by Derek Yee Tung-Sing had some curious similarities with Slumdog Millionaire. The main character is poor and from an oppressed minority, on a journey to seek riches and the love of his life who’s taken by the local mafia and troubled by a rebellious brother; sounds familiar? Rather than a Muslim Indian living in a predominantly Hindu India, this film is about an illegal Chinese immigrant and soon-to-be gang leader in Japan. The parallels with Slumdog Millionaire continue even further with the portrayal of both traditional and modern local culture, the Japanese rock/punk fashion known as ‘Visual kei’ making many appearances in this film.
Yet this was also an intensely gritty gangster movie where power and materialism corrupts and the protagonist ‘Steelhead’, played by Jackie Chan, is just as criminal as the rival Yakuza; assassinating rival gangsters at the drop of a hat. While it’s true he agreed to kill on the premise that it would give a home to his ethnic Chinese friends, he nonetheless despatched his victims with almost slap-stick speed; at least as far as the editing was concerned.
However in contrast with the slap-stick editing, the fight scenes are at times very realistic and suitably clumsy, a far cry from the comedy kung-fu that is normally associated with Jackie Chan. Indeed, his naturalistic acting in this film along with the native language is a refreshing change.
Steelhead’s relationship with the police Inspector also had something of ‘Gone in 60 Seconds’ to it. Just as in Nicholas Cage’s film, there is almost a sense of comradeship between Inspector Kitano and Steelhead, who eventually gives Kitano all the evidence he needs. This “I’m going to give you all the evidence just before I die/stop my criminal activity” is in danger of becoming a police cliché just as the “You’ve got to hand in your badge…and your gun” and “He doesn’t stick by the rules, but my god does he get results” lines are.
Unlike Slumdog Millionaire, this film doesn’t end with a happily-ever-after unison complete with a Bollywood send-off. In The Shinjuku Incident the main character’s gang becomes corrupted by violance and materialism, with Steelhead struggling to hold his leadership as they’re locked into a spiral of vicious racial gang warfare. The oppression of Steelhead’s Chinese gang becomes all the more prevalent when Toshinari Eguchi, being Steelhead’s employer and rival, has to refer to the Chinese gang as his “Chess pieces” to the main Yakuza boss who finally decides to destroy them “the Bushido way”.
I loved this movie for its believable fight scenes and a fantastically deep plot, which felt all the more genuine with its touches on modern east-Asian politics. Though these political issues which mainly hark back to the China-Japan war may partially go unrecognised by a western audience, as the war was ‘upstaged’ by WW2, with Britain and America’s involvement only being the unsuccessful defence of British-owned Singapore and America’s ‘Flying Tiger’ air volunteers. Japan has been under criticism by China relatively recently, since it was reported that Japanese history books in schools “whitewashed” the brutal occupation.
This historical context along with the illegal immigrant issue is perhaps the reason why this film was banned in China. Thuogh considering that the Chinese censor’s stamp is rarely left to go dry, it could have been anything.
One of the few drawbacks of this film was how the timescale had little to no labeling, so it was hard to tell how long it took Steelhead’s brother to change from being a disabled ex-chestnut seller to egoistical Visual Kei rocker. Overall, it was definitely worth the watch and stooping to the side trying to see the subtitles past people’s heads.
And on an ending note, In gangster films you should always keep a watchful eye on the brother…
The Godfather II: The protagonist has his brother killed for being too hotheaded.
Slumdog Millionaire: The brother becomes a hitman for the mafia, rapes the protagonist’s girlfriend and later martyrs himself to let her escape from said mafia.
Lord of War: The brother gains a cocaine addiction and later martyrs himself in order to stop an arms deal in west Africa. “I smuggled millions of rounds of ammunition and the bullet that lands me in jail is found under my dead brother’s rib.”
The Shinjuku Incident: The brother (or at least very close friend, sometimes it’s hard to tell) gains an inferiority complex, sells/takes drugs, brings the wrath of the Yakuza against Steelhead’s gang and later dies with the words “I’m still a coward”.
I hope you like this film too, and bless the CEAFS’ tasty popcorn. Mmmm