Chan goes dramatic with a self-produced film to flex his acting skills. Chan plays the straight man, “Nick”, aka Tietou a Chinese tractor repairman who chases after his girlfried, Xie Xie, who emigrated illegally to Japan to seek a better life. He meets up with his brother, “Joe”, aka Jie, who arrived earlier, and knows Japanese. Nick arrives the foreign innocent, but the film takes plot twists: he saves a cop’s life, sees Xie Xie dressing Japanese and with a Yakuza, gives up on morality, ends up involved with crime, sees his Joe maimed, seeks revenge, maims a gangster, and then becomes an assassin for the Yakuza, rising high in the ranks. Nick cannot let go of his morality, and tries to use his new power to have the local Chinese businesses go legit. This is a morality play with twists and turns like this, over and over, with Nick going from good to evil then good again.
This all takes Shinjuku, a multicultural ghetto populated by immigrants, gangsters, thieves, and drug dealers. Shinjuku is also well known, globally, as a hub of Japanese youth culture. Within Japan, though, it’s known for being sleazy.
As a Japanese American viewer who lives in a Latino community, I couldn’t help but empathize with the Chinese underground community in Japan, facing racism and structural oppression. This movie is layered with a complex presentation of racism, and how the oppressed people negotiate the terrain, and manage the situation.
You get a taste of conservative Yakuza ultranationlist racism, but also Yakuza Eguchi’s working class sympathies with the Chinese immigrants. You get the conflict between the Taiwan gangs who are controlled by the Yakuza, and the Mainland Chinese underclass who engage in small time theft. You even get a gigantic video billboard with English language discussions about racism, oppression, and underground economies – a narrator explaining the big ideas, but in the language of global hegemony.
If you know a Chinese language or Japanese, I suggest watching this with subtitles and the original audio. The dialogue switches between different Chinese languages and Japanese, and the characters also switch languages mid-speech. The effect contributes to the atmosphere.
The film also flips between genres. It’s mostly a gangster action drama, sometimes feeling like an HK action movie, sometimes feeling like a Japanese Yakuza movie, and sometimes feeling like a Japanese cop drama. There’s even a moment that felt like moralistic Communist propaganda.