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The story follows the path of a Chinese illegal immigrant to Japan named Steelhead after his initial search for his fiancée Xiu-Xiu finds her happily living with Yakuza leader Eguchi. Steelhead coincidentally saves Eguchi's life during an act of revenge. Eguchi then has Steelhead assassinate several of his enemies, and rewards him with both territory and legal citizenship. This unfortunately places him in the middle of a Mob War between the Yakuza and the Triads, with an empire composed mostly of the people who have helped him so far. Further complicating things is Detective Kitano, a Japanese policeman with immigration who initially agrees to stop pursuing Steelhead after the latter saves his life, but is later drawn into the action due to the nature of Steelhead's "business." Eventually, a series of violent aggressions by rival gangs that all accidentally end up hitting Steelhead's soft-spoken brother Jie and the deepening corruption of Steelhead's friends cause him to realize what he has become. He resolves to break up his empire with the help of Detective Kitano, at which point it may already be too late...
This film contains examples of:
- An Immigrant's Tale: Of a sort.
- Black and Grey Morality: Steelhead and Kitano are unquestionably the most admirable characters, but the former killed several people and even Kitano does a few illegal things in helping Steelhead.
- Black Market
- Book Ends: Steelhead saves Kitano from drowning in the sewer near the beginning, and Kitano tries to reciprocate at the end.
- Counterfeit Cash
- Crime After Crime: Part of how Steelhead enters the underworld.
- Darker and Grittier: Compared to a lot of Chan's earlier work.
- Dub Name Change: Steelhead's name is mysteriously rendered as "Nick" in the English dub.
- Fell Off the Back of a Truck: Steelhead is offered a lot of...less than legitimate goods at one point.
- He Really Can Act: The film was Jackie Chan's attempt to prove it.
- Hitman with a Heart: Steelhead/Nick to a T.
- The Informant: Steelhead agrees to be this for Kitano in exchange for letting his friends walk. He also makes one of Eguchi.
- Let Me At Him: There are a couple times the main group wants to attack but can't without getting everyone killed.
- Make an Example of Them: Happens twice (non-lethally) to Jie.
- Mob War: Between the three main groups.
- My God, What Have I Done?: Steelhead does this after Gao cuts off Jie's hand, and again when he sees how his friends have become corrupt.
- Off the Record: Kitano's favours for Steelhead.
- Revenge by Proxy: On Jie.
- Sympathetic Criminal: Steelhead.
- Sympathetic Inspector Antagonist: Detective Kitano, although subverted in that for most of the movie he is not actually chasing Steelhead...because he almost got killed chasing Steelhead.