Daily Archives: May 3, 2012

Shinjuku Incident (San suk si gin, Hong Kong 2009)

Jackie Chan as ‘Steelhead’ leading his Chinese gang in the Shinjuku district of Tokyo

Dismissed by David Bordwell because of the “formulaic” direction by Derek Yee, this film from Jackie Chan’s production company is indeed flawed in many ways – but it’s also pretty interesting for several reasons. The narrative begins in North East China in the 1990s. Villagers are discussing the possibility of emigration to Japan, especially as one of the elderly villagers can prove that she is a ‘Japanese orphan’ – one of the children born during the wartime occupation of China. A group of villagers beg her to claim them as her children so that they can legally enter Japan. Xie Xie (Xu Jinglei) has an aunt in Tokyo and she leaves China. When he has heard nothing from her for a considerable time, her ex-boyfriend ‘Steelhead’ (Jackie Chan as a tractor mechanic) decides to follow her. The ship carrying him and other ‘illegals’ founders on the Japanese coast but Steelhead eventually finds his way to Tokyo and refuge with a Chinese community in Shinjuku which includes Jie, his ‘brother’ from the village. For the remainder of the narrative Steelhead moves steadily from an illegal being hunted by the police to a petty crook and then on to a gang-leader taking on the yakuza. He also develops a second relationship with a Japanese-Chinese woman, Lily, since Xie Xie is by now beyond his reach.

The concept behind the film sees Jackie Chan attempting a ‘serious’ dramatic role. Although there are action sequences, Chan does not perform outrageous stunts or display his kung-fu skills. Instead he plays a hard-working man who is pushed first into crime because of his illegal status and then into leadership of his Chinese community in self defence. This Hong Kong production tells a mainland story that is also about a social issue in Japan. It obviously draws on yakuza genre narratives, but offsets this quite heavily with a ‘moral discourse’ that perhaps derives from Chinese social films (at various times Steelhead acts in an almost altruistic fashion – even though it puts him in danger). As well as the Japanese setting, the plot also involves a Taiwanese gang which Steelhead and his group must replace on the streets of Shinjuku. Language is an issue in the film, although of course the English subtitles draw attention away from the mix of Japanese, Mandarin, Cantonese and other Chinese dialects.

I found the film to be confusing at times, partly I suspect because it has been re-edited. It is also very violent. Despite a sometimes poor critical response, the film seems to have pleased many of Chan’s large numbers of fans. In passing I learned something I’ve not thought about before – the film was not released in mainland China because there are no age-related certificates there. Chan is reported to have been concerned that this 18 certificate film in the UK would be unsuitable in an unregulated cinema market where children might see it.

I’m not really in a position to judge Jackie Chan’s performance in this role as I haven’t seen enough of the earlier work which made him such a big star. For what it’s worth, I thought he did a good job – but I must confess that I did think about those films where older stars like John Wayne or Clint Eastwood played action roles that seemed unlikely. Chan was only in his early 50s in this film and there was nothing wrong with his action sequences but he seemed a good 10-15 years too old for the specific role of the ex-boyfriend/fiancé.

BIFF 2012: Final Thoughts

Rúnar Rúnarsson receives the European Features Award for Volcano from one of the judges, Tim Robey film critic of the Daily Telegraph

I wasn’t able to make the final day of the festival on Sunday but a press release reveals that the winner of the first European Features Competition was Volcano directed by Rúnar Rúnarsson, who received €3,000. I’m happy to concur with the judges and this was the winner I expected. It’s a fine film and the director deserves support – perhaps someone will now distribute the film in the UK? My only slight concern is that Volcano is in some ways a ‘typical’ festival prizewinner and sometimes it would be good to see the prize go to an animation like Arrugas (which did receive a ‘special mention’), a road movie like Avé or even a quirky satire like Adalbert’s Dream.

The winner of the Shine Shorts Competition was the German film Kinderspiel (Child’s Play) by director Lars Kornhoff. I wasn’t able to see the shorts in this competition so I can’t comment but David Wilson, Director of Bradford City of Film, said: “The winning film, Kinderspiel, was chosen due to the quality of the production. The film was really well shot and the jury thought it was very well acted. There was a real tenderness to the film and a plot line full of surprises. The music score was also noted for its writing and production and the way it worked with the film.”

I enjoyed my visits to the festival this year, managing six days in all. I haven’t posted on everything I saw and there are still two to come, but I might delay these as they are both due to open later this month. For the record, Ismaël Ferrhouki’s Les hommes libres was my favourite film of the festival and one of the films of the year so far. I also very much enjoyed the new version of Faust by Alexander Sokurov.I was grateful to get the chance to see Belle de jour again, on a 35mm print that although a bit scratchy on the reel changes looked good with excellent colour. (Belle de jour was part of the celebration of Pierre Clémenti’s film work.) I think that there are also postings from Rona and Keith to come.

So, congratulations to co-directors Tom Vincent and Neil Young for establishing a new competition and overseeing what appeared to be a successful transition of BIFF into a new era. Thanks too to Rachel McWatt for organising my press tickets. It will be interesting to see how this year’s festival comes through its evaluation and what then awaits us next year.