The last two movies starring Jackie Chan left bitter aftertastes in my mind. Railroad Tigers was a mediocre cartoonish romp. Kung Fu Yoga was an even greater disappointment, hokey in every turn until its final scene where the entire movie gave up and descended into Bollywood musical crap. I couldn’t help but think that Jackie is better than these.
There was hope. Following Yoga is The Foreigner, a gritty action thriller that pits Chan against ex-007 Pierce Brosnan, adapted from Stephen Leather’s novel The Chinaman by scribe David Marconi (Enemy of the State, Live Free or Die Hard), and directed by action expert Martin Campbell (GoldenEye, Casino Royale, The Mask of Zorro, Edge of Darkness). So, there’s calibre talent both in front of and behind the camera here.
The film centres around two men – Quan Ngoc Minh (Chan), a humble Chinese-Vietnamese restaurant owner whose daughter Fan is killed in a vicious London bombing by rogue IRA shell terrorists. Grieving for his complete loss (Fan is the last of his family) and having nothing to lose, Quan takes matter into his own hands and requests information regarding the bombers from both the British officials and Northern Irish officials, before eventually being shooed off by government official Liam Hennessy (Brosnan). This sets off Quan who, using his US Special Forces training obtained from his past, wages a one-man war against the authorities until they hand over the information, proceeding to make Hennessy’s life a living hell in the process as Quan both purposely and inadvertently digs up Hennessy’s ex-terrorist past and sets off a chain of events which unsnares a conspiracy and further terrorist plot.
First off, there are some mild disappointments. Those looking for a Jackie Wick or a Taken as the trailers made it out to be may come off slightly disappointed, as Chan, though still a central figure in the film, is not in the film as much as expected. A big chunk (not all) of the action sequences are also showcased prominently in the trailer. That’s not to say that a complete bait-and-switch VODmit has been pulled off, but some may feel the burn. A majority of the film’s second half hinges on Pierce Brosnan as he figures out the shitstorm Quan had placed him into, involving a web of lies and deceit within Hennessy’s social and political circle. To say that the film takes a sharp turn into Bourne-level political conspiracy thriller is an understatement.
But boy, does this film hit hard. Campbell is an action specialist, and when the film moves, it *moves*. Campbell has given Chan’s trademark swiftness and gracefulness a grounded, brutal swagger, and the film is all the better for it – this is the first time I’ve seen Chan, realistically for his age, fight his way through various enemies, and his great emotional acting also complements his exhaustive fight choreography. Quick and brief, but consistently painful. Chan still retains his “no-kill” rule for the most part, but he still maims his opponents, in a woodland sequence that is a clear nod to First Blood. It’s Chan’s best work in years. Brosnan, too, elevates what could’ve been November Man tedium into consistently gripping work – I greatly enjoyed watching him scowl and scream away as he reacts to both double-crossing political intrigue and Quan’s actions. There’s a certain “star-power” momentum seeing both Chan and Brosnan together on the screen, even better when both are on opposing sides.
The political thriller bit also interested me (though I know certain fellow ManlyMovie members may know more on the IRA matter); Campbell and Marconi make the story intense, clear and concise whereas other similarly themed films fail due to trying to be smarter than they are. Technical wise, Campbell floors it: the action is nicely shot – no shaky cam to speak of, concise editing, barely any CGI to speak of. The political incorrectness of the film is also refreshing – it doesn’t matter if you’re a male or female; you act like a terrorist, you get treated like a terrorist from the authorities. There’s never a dull moment in this one.
Though I can see some parties disappointed by the lack of Chan’s presence and the inclusion of a political conspiracy subplot, Campbell’s handling of the material and the performances of both Chan and especially Brosnan greatly surprised me. More so than a good action movie, this is a good movie on its own merit, and may very well end up as one of my favourites of the year. This one’s for the collection.