Forget Superman vs. Batman, “The Foreigner” features Jackie Chan vs. James Bond! Ok, Chan and Pierce Brosnan are getting a little long in the tooth, so it’s kind of like one of the later Rocky movies. Jackie Chan movies were never cinematic masterpieces, but we watched because this unique superstar redefined the martial arts action flick.
If Bruce Lee popularized Kung Fu-mania, Chan brought his own brand of choreography, humor and vulnerability to over a hundred pictures. Hollywood never took him seriously, but that’s not what he was going for; now, he is. As a 60+ year-old overprotective father, Quan (Chan) is utterly devastated over the loss of his teenage daughter, who becomes collateral damage in a senseless London bombing by the Irish Republican Army.
This meek, humble and disheveled business owner is a broken man. His dull eyes appear lifeless while the deep lines on his expressionless face define a helpless surrender. These heartbreaking scenes are new territory for the aging star. Then, calmly and quietly, Quan begins to plot his revenge. As the audience learns, Quan had been trained in Special Forces, as a younger man, and still has a particular set of skills.
Based on the Stephen Leather novel, “The Chinaman,” this is the first movie in six years directed by Martin Campbell (“Casino Royale”). He keeps the story moving while bringing the action to a slow boil. In Quan’s relentless search for the terrorist’s identity, he is forced into a conflict with British politician Liam Hennessy (Brosnan).
Liam has a checkered past and dubious personal life. The former activist is purportedly committed to peaceful solutions, but his own past may hold clues to the identities of the elusive killers. Liam is backed by the political machinery and Quan is armed with a dogged persistence that may erupt into a revenge-fueled vendetta.
We’ve seen similar plots before. This one is needlessly convoluted, but is still better than average, due to the two main protagonists. Brosnan shows a new set of acting chops and our eyes were glued to the screen watching Chan so seamlessly change gears from a lighthearted action star to an empathetic actor.
Chan’s patented “fight” maneuvers are not nearly as plentiful or prolonged as yesteryear. Thankfully, he can and does deliver these scenes against bigger and younger opponents, at will. Liam screams at his henchmen, “This sixty year-old man is running circles around us!” We thoroughly enjoyed watching Chan’s return and grateful they defined an age-appropriate role for the maturing star.
Quan does not resort exclusively to punching and kicking. With strategic precision, he also uses a few household ingredients mixed in the proper proportion. His objective is to gain the names of the assailants so he can administer a little street justice. Liam’s reluctance generates some intrigue and suspense to what becomes a conspiracy thriller.
Chan and Brosnan offer passionate and credible performances. Chan adds gravitas to his role of the tragic loner while Brosnan crafts a vulnerability and even desperation to his typically confident and arrogant persona. No, we don’t expect Oscar nods, but these two are far more entertaining than many “serious” thespians in recent features.
“The Foreigner” is 114 minutes and rated R for violence and language. It’s been almost twenty years since Chan’s hilarious “Rush Hour” and fifteen years since Brosnan has been Bond, James Bond. In these days of “John Wick” brutality, these action sequences are not overly gratuitous and the victims are mostly generic goons.
This is kind of a Jackie Chan movie for grown-ups, maybe senior citizens. But, Jackie Chan fans should not be disappointed. His days of “Rumble in the Bronx” are behind him, but the man can act. He’ll never be Anthony Hopkins, but plays pain and misery so effectively, it’s agonizing. To best understand the appeal, it’s been said almost anyone can play Superman, but only one person can play Jackie Chan.
Ron’s Rating: B+
Leigh’s Rating: B