Jackie Chan proves himself in The Foreigner

Jordan Bosch
Special to the Moose Jaw Times-Herald

It’s been a while since we’ve seen a Jackie Chan movie.
His last major English-language film that I can recall was the 2010 remake of The Karate Kid. He used to be everywhere in the 90s and early 2000s, the face of martial arts around the world. But he’s in his sixties now, playing very much against type in The Foreigner, which while being a nice welcome back for his fans, is unlike any other Jackie Chan movie.
When a resurgent IRA group cause a bombing at a London bank, resulting in the death of his daughter (Katie Leung), Ngoc Minh Quan (Chan) makes it his mission to exact revenge on the people responsible. He targets Liam Hennessy (Pierce Brosnan), the Deputy Minister of Northern Ireland and a former IRA member himself for information. Hennessy, who’s having enough trouble trying to control the situation and cover his tracks, is unable to give Quan the names of the terrorists. But he doesn’t count on Quan’s history as a special forces soldier in the Vietnam War leading him to take drastic actions to intimidate Hennessy until he gets the names he wants.
The first thing that needs to be said is that Jackie Chan is great in this movie. He’s always been an entertaining performer, through his impressive stunt-work and skill for physical comedy alike. But he’s never really stood out as a good actor necessarily. This film changes that, as he gives a really engaging performance as a grizzled man who’s been through his share of terrors, and after losing his third daughter, is distraught to the point of taking violent action. And while the action scenes he performs are very good, they’re not all that frequent – Quan often resorting to other tactics – and even when we do see hand-to-hand combat it’s rougher than anything you would see in Rush Hour or Shanghai Noon. Though he’s very skilled at what he does, you can definitely feel his age, and Chan plays it with believable weariness. I’d love to see him take on more roles like this.
This film also reunites GoldenEye director Martin Campbell with Pierce Brosnan, who delivers a great performance as well. Admittedly, he is a little bit of a clichéd corrupt politician, but not exactly the villain, and Brosnan is given some very interesting facets of the character to play. The film is fairly evenly divided between the two leads, devoting a lot of time to Hennessy’s ties to the IRA and siphoning a lot of the political intrigue through the characters connected to him. These include his wife played by Orla Brady, his mistress played by Charlie Murphy, his army nephew played by Rory Fleck-Byrne, his accomplice played by Dermot Crowley, and an always-threatening Michael McElhatton as his right-hand man, all of whom are perfectly serviceable.
The pacing is really good in this movie; it’s two hours, but doesn’t feel like it. And for the most part, the story is good. However, the book it’s based on, The Chinaman, by Stephen Leather (a name by which Quan is frequently referred) was written well into the Troubles, when the IRA was still a dangerous presence in the U.K. But setting this film in the modern day, there’s no explanation given for why the IRA have come back now. One could easily have been made believable, but without, it does leave the political conflict coming off a bit outdated and forced.
For a good portion of the movie too, Quan is hiding out in a forest from Hennessy’s men whom he injures or incapacitates when they pursue him a la First Blood. It does stall the drive of the film somewhat, confining him to just this one location. It was a lot more interesting when the cat and mouse game was more pronounced and Quan was evading and getting the best of Hennessy all over Belfast.
As far as I know, The Foreigner is the first Jackie Chan movie set entirely in the U.K. And it does address the racial tension he experiences as an immigrant, obviously from the offensive moniker, but also in more subtle scenes. Likewise. it might be his first movie where his martial arts roots are relatively played down, and the movie benefits for it. It’s nothing great, but isn’t really disappointing either. It’s worth seeing for the performances, particularly Chan’s, and if you’re in the mood for a decent thriller.