In an alternate universe, Jackie Chan is an actor—even an understated one. This isn’t to disparage his 30-plus years of hanging from helicopters or pinwheeling through kung-fu bouts. His are some of the most legendary achievements in action cinema, and if Chan clowned his way through the majority of them, the persona was apt (as it was for Harold Lloyd).
Give yourself over to the solidly absorbing Shinjuku Incident, though—a 2009 gangster film barely released stateside—and you’ll see an entirely different performer. (Coincidentally, Chan’s turn in this week’s The Karate Kid is also subdued.) Make no mistake, Chan’s “Steelhead,” an illegal Chinese immigrant rising through Japan’s underworld, is no pacifist; after a wayward fiancée lures him east, he takes to the violent lifestyle with ease. But this assassin’s motivations are honorable (citizenship and jobs for his clan) and reminiscent of the kind of moral quandaries that mark everything from 1931’s The Public Enemy to Slumdog Millionaire. Chan carries the complexity single-handedly.
Besides the beautiful anamorphic transfer, you get Chan in a featurette, speaking candidly about his aspirations: “An action star’s life is very short. I want to be like Robert De Niro or Clint Eastwood.” We won’t get in his way.