Movie review: Jackie Chan gets serious in 'The Foreigner'

Fred Hawson

Posted at Oct 20 2017 12:14 PM

Even if he gets older and older, Jackie Chan always promises to deliver a great action film. The premise of this film is quite clear from the trailer alone. It is basically Jackie's character exacting revenge on the people responsible for the death of his daughter. The story is not exactly new, yes. However, the promise of seeing more signature Jackie Chan actions scenes still make this latest project a must-see for his local fans.

Within the first five minutes of this film, Quan Ngoc Minh's daughter Fan (Katie Leung) was one of the victims killed by a deadly bomb explosion in London, an act of terrorism for which an Irish group called UDI had claimed responsibility. However, the police counter-terror command led by Richard Bromley (Ray Fearon) could not tell the distraught Quan who was responsible for his daughter's death.

A stubborn Quan then sought out Irish deputy minister Liam Hennessy, an ex-UDI member turned politician who now serves as liaison between the N. Irish and the British government. When Hennessy was giving him the runaround on the phone, Quan went to Belfast to confront Hennessy in his office. Quan, using his background as a special ops solider during the Vietnam War, made the next days precarious for Hennessy to force him to spill out the names of the terrorists. 

Unlike what the title suggests, Jackie Chan's Quan Ngoc Minh is not exactly a "foreigner". Quan was born in China, but he had migrated to the UK thirty years or so ago and is already a British citizen. I guess the title is just a more politically correct term than "The Chinaman", a 1992 novel by Stephen Leather upon which this film was based. However, we still hear the word "Chinaman" in a couple of scenes as uttered by Irish thugs.

As expected, Jackie Chan delivers on the promise of amazing martial arts fight scenes. This guy lost nothing to age it seems, as the fights, be they bare-handed or with big knives and various household items, were still as bone-crushingly realistic as ever. Being that Quan was Jackie Chan, we had no doubt whatsoever that he can take on multiple opponents or be hurt very badly, yet still come out victorious. Being special ops, he can do anything single-handedly!

As this story is about terrorists, it was inevitable that there would be big explosions. Aside from the department store explosion in the beginning that took the life of Fan, there was that one big chilling explosion on one of those iconic red double-decker buses in the middle of a bridge over the Thames, which must have been quite a challenge to film. Quan also got to set off his own little explosions from grocery items, smaller in scale but no less destructive.

One big difference of "The Foreigner" from the typical Jackie Chan film is the complete lack of slapstick comedy. Chan was dead serious here. That one tearful scene where he was first interviewed by police after the bombing was very moving. I thought they did not really have to make him trudge around like a very old man when he was obviously still very spry and capable to walk up straight. 

Pierce Brosnan was also looking older and grizzled here as Liam Hennessy, but he was still no less a lady-killer. While Hennessy has his hands full toeing the line between his rebellious past and his diplomatic present, he also has to balance two women in his life. Actually, without the interesting twists and turns in Hennessy's side of the story about his wife Mary (Orla Brady), his nephew Sean (Rory Fleck-Byrne), and his mistress Maggie (Charlie Murphy), this could have just another typical generic revenge film. 

This nuanced portrayal of a complex conflicted character was a nice return to form for Brosnan, who had been in forgettable projects in the last few years. Brosnan had worked with director Martin Campbell before in his first outing as James Bond "GoldenEye" (1995), and the two will work together again in a film version of Ernest Hemingway's "Across the River and Into the Trees."

I think you can never really miss with a Jackie Chan film. I had seen Chan in a straight drama before, "Police Story 2013" where he also played a distressed father, and it was good to see him here is another variation of that theme. He knows what his audience wants and he delivers. Seeing Chan and Pierce Brosnan together playing roles they are not usually known for, spiced with director Martin Campbell's style of raw brutal action, made formulaic "The Foreigner" still compelling to watch. 7/10

This review was originally published in the author's blog, "Fred Said."