Director: Martin Campbell
Cast: Jackie Chan, Pierce Brosnan, Michael McElhatton, Orla Brady, Ray Fearon, Dermot Crowley, Charlie Murphy, Rory Fleck-Byrne
Plot: After Quan’s (Chan) daughter is killed in an IRA terrorist attack, he goes after the politicians who potentially had connections to the bombers.
Jackie Chan has always been more of a fighter than an actor. Back in his glory days, that was an established fact and something appreciated by his fans. His fight scenes were so visceral, so slickly choreographed, that the tacked-on story felt side-lined anyway. But then Chan matured. He was able to not only deliver fight scenes, but act a great deal as well. However, he never really combined the two. In many ways, The Foreigner is the first time we’ve seen Jackie Chan properly combine the two. In short, it is something to get very, very excited about.
The plot is also an intriguing blend of two genres in itself. On one hand, it is the film that the trailers and the marketing make it out to be. Jackie Chan plays an elderly and kind father. As he drives his daughter to a dress shop, he is the last thing we expect from an action hero. Unlike the geriatric Liam Neeson movies, where the plot makes it very clear a seasoned badass is lurking underneath, Chan is far more ordinary. You can almost hear his daughter’s eye-rolling as he pedantically warns her about crossing the road safely. However, his world is ripped apart when that dress shop explodes, killing his daughter and a dozen more people. As Chan finds his world blown apart (it turns out he also lost his wife and other daughters to Thai pirates in the Vietnam war) withdraw into a sobbing mess, the cops learn that the bombing was from a renegade faction of the IRA. This is where the story ventures into safer and more predictable territory. Jackie Chan, realising the cops have their hands tied trying to do things the right way, decides to track down the bombers himself, taking him on a dangerous detective mission, where he is forced to cross some moral lines. However, the interesting thing about The Foreigner is that, in the background of this standard revenge thriller, is the kind of political drama that entertains a much more mature audience member. As Chan fights fire with fire, Pierce Brosnan’s Northern Ireland First Minister tries to untangle the mess from the inside. Brosnan’s Liam Hennessey is a very fascinating character, mainly because there is very little done to hide the fact that Brosnan is basing his character on the very controversial Gerry Adams. Adams is a prominent Irish politician, who, despite his denial of these allegations, has very likely been a key leader of the IRA in the 70s. Many consider him a terrorist who “won”. It gives The Foreigner this unexpected added bite to everything. As Hennessey goes through his old comrades in the IRA, trying to figure out who is behind the attack, the moral connotations are unmissable. And it is very exhilarating to have the backdrop to this Jackie Chan action to be a tense political thriller where the constant back-stabbing makes the chase to the end of the riddle a complex, satisfying one.
Sadly in blending two genres, one usually played fast and furious, the other played slow and methodical, you end up with two different movies and neither particularly the one you want. Jackie Chan’s fights scenes are few and far in between, hardly the electrifying likes of the Rush Hour movies or his dependable indie actions. That being said, when we get them, they are worthy of the patience. Chan’s ingenuity in an Irish forest, hunting Hennessey’s men is nail-biting and the final punch-up in a flat in London is solid Chan. His fighting prowess has not diluted with age. Yet Campbell is clearly more concerned with the drama behind the men in this action. It is more about examined morality. In many ways, every character here is a bad guy convinced they are the good guys. Jackie Chan in the closest thing to a good guy here, motivated by the loss of his daughter and a desire to catch the men responsible for his actions. But there are moments in this film where Chan’s character loses his way through revenge, terrifying innocent people to get the answers he needs to get to the real bad guys. The same can be said of Hennessey. He is the kind of character that is played so finely that you leave the movie unsure whether he was good or bad. The truth is likely a murkier sense of grey. His secrets definitely break the law at some points, but he is hardly the biggest monster in this movie, merely a man who made a mistake and is trying to undo it the right way. The bad guys are also following a similar arc to Chan, seeking revenge for those killed in the line of fire. Are they any different to Jackie Chan in the Foreigner? The debate can even more uncomfortably be filtered down to the cops and terrorists. The cops are guilty of brutality, but the movie arguably justifies it. And surely the terrorists believe that they are the heroes in their own stories too. The Foreigner is essentially a study in villainy, making it some of Campbell’s most exciting work outside of James Bond. But true, there are moments when the debate hampers the action fun. For that reason, there are bound to people a fair portion of people disappointed with Chan’s latest venture.
Final Verdict: This is definitely outside of our expectations of Jackie Chan, a thoughtful and intelligent thriller with a lot to say.