It has been a long time since I have taken Jackie Chan seriously on the screen. A Jackie Chan movie is a Jackie Chan movie — some better than others, but most an excuse to show off his exceptional stunt skills and goofy comic timing. The Foreigner however marks a new direction for the star, who received an Honorary Oscar just last year. He actually gets a chance to show off emotion and acting chops we rarely see from the martial arts icon, and it is a welcome change.
It helps to have a solid character in a smart script (by David Marconi), and Chan is the beneficiary playing Quan, a small-time restaurant owner whose life is turned upside down after his beloved daughter is killed in a London terrorist bombing. An IRA cell claims responsibility, and Quan will stop at nothing to track down the killers. For this cause he enlists the help of Liam Hennessey (Pierce Brosnan), the Irish Deputy Minister. As their interaction develops into a cat-and-mouse game in tracking the perpetrators of the bombing, both hidden pasts come bubbling back to the surface affecting the very present-day crisis Quan drags Hennessey into. In order to keep things under control, Hennessey engages his young nephew Sean Morrison (Rory Fleck Byrne), and complications arise with the involvement of his wife Mary (Orla Brady) as well in a complex viper’s nest of plot twists.
Although the film is slower to get to the action than most Chan vehicles, the thrills are there but they come with a much more mature and graying Chan. His Quan is a man bent on revenge who has a past life that should scare anyone who crosses his path. It is fun to watch Chan walk the fine line of the distraught father still grieving the loss of a child, and the no-nonsense killing machine he once was and still can summon. As I say in my video review above, Brosnan is every bit his equal on screen as the script really sets this all up as a one-to-one match between the two. Brosnan keeps his cool through most of it even as his own dark past comes into play along with more revelations.
Based on the 1992 book The Chinaman by Stephen Leather, Marconi’s script updates the timeline to present day even though the IRA is not the constant threat it was when the book was written. Director Martin Campbell — who helmed Brosnan in his first James Bond outing Goldeneye, as well as another Bond, Daniel Craig, in Casino Royale — certainly knows his way around a thriller like this one even if it doesn’t have the bells and whistles (or the budget) of one of his Bond films. Though all the requisite action scenes are here he navigates the story in an intelligent direction that reminds of some of the more accomplished films in this genre.
The Chinese-American co-production that STX Entertainment releases domestically Friday is sharp, exciting and compelling. It’s also a nice change-up for Chan that should satisfy his fans and maybe even earn him some new ones. Producers are Wayne Marc Godfrey, Arthur Sarkissian, Claire Kupchak, Jamie Marshall, Qi Jian Hong, Cathy Schulman, Scott Lumpkin and Chan.
Do you plan to see The Foreigner? Let us know what you think.