He's finally doing it. It looks like Jackie Chan has taken his first step in changing his goody-two-shoes image. In his latest film, Shinjuku Incident, Chan is no longer Mr Nice Guy. As an illegal immigrant in Japan, his character proves capable of amoral violence. He also visits hookers, heads a local Chinese gang and is generally more unsavoury than Chan has ever been on screen. As a movie, it's also a much more serious affair. There is no slapstick humour, slick choreographed action where nobody gets hurt - but there are still funny out-takes during the credits. In fact, Derek Yee Tung-shing's movie is downright nasty and gruesome in some parts. It's a radical departure for Chan to go from family entertainment to Category III violence. That's the rating the version of the film shown on the opening night of the Hong Kong International Film Festival was given. The version released in cinemas had a couple of scenes trimmed to acquire the more accessible IIB rating. In short, this is no Rush Hour or The Forbidden Kingdom. But it might be the best thing Jackie could have done for his flagging career. For one, it was the opening movie at the big film fest - when was the last time Mr Tourism Ambassador's films held that prestigious position (I think never!). He's also being taken seriously for the first time in a long time and getting a lot of attention within film circles. And it's all because he was willing to play a bad guy. Actually, the character is not even that bad a person. He's technically still the protagonist except he's morally conflicted and forced by circumstance to take action in desperate situations. What he isn't is a cookie-cutter, one-dimensional hero. For the longest time the action star resisted playing any role other than that of the good guy. Chan cultivated a unique self-deprecating image and wowed fans with his ambitious stunts and fleet-footed kung fu. It worked for a long time but lately both his local and Hollywood efforts have bored audiences and box-office earnings have receded with each uninspired release such as Around The World in 80 Days and The Medallion. His excuse was always he didn't want to alienate his fans, especially young kids, with unsuitable material and bad film role models. That might be an admirable goal but it really limited his acting range. Ultimately, even his fans got bored. I guess eventually he figured if he has no fans left, then there will be nobody to alienate and maybe being a baddie isn't so bad after all. Not that I'm trying to take credit for turning Jackie Chan's career around, but it's an argument I made in this column over two years ago. At the time, mainland censors weren't happy with Chan's character in his baby comedy Rob-B-Hood. They felt his role as a gambling addict who kidnaps a baby for ransom in the original script 'was too evil'. Chan said: 'In the first draft of the script, my character is the most evil I've ever been. He hits women, burns people with cigarettes. But it was rejected by censors. The Chinese government said Jackie Chan can't be so evil.' Well, he can now. And kudos to director Yee for sticking to his guns and forgoing the mainland market to keep the new and improved Jackie Chan a ruthless brute. Shinjuku Incident may not pass muster with mainland censors but its credibility and respectability will probably win over a far larger audience in the long run than Rob-B-Hood. A female acquaintance who saw the film remarked that she was surprised not only by Chan's acting, but also a brief shot of his nude backside next to Daniel Wu's. She thought for man over 50, he had managed to keep up quite well, so to speak. See, Jackie's already winning over a new fan base. There are many movie stars afraid to play villains because they think it will damage their images. Steven Seagal was one such actor and look what a wonderfully diverse career he has had. On the other hand, Jet Li reached super stardom as the rogue in Lethal Weapon 4. Chow Yun-fat won plaudits for revealing his malevolent side in Curse Of The Golden Flower and Pirates of the Caribbean 3: At World's End. Even Andy Lau Tak-wah garnered accolades as a gangster in Infernal Affairs. In short, playing a hero is overrated. As Jackie Chan realises he can't keep playing the same kind-hearted hero in highly acrobatic action movies, maybe he's now learned that showing a different kind of flexibility will extend his film career much longer.