There are precious few things universally loved in Hollywood. However, if there is one thing we can agree on, it should be our mutual love (or at least respect and admiration) of Jackie Chan. A massive icon in the film industry, both domestically and abroad, the veteran of over 200 films finally received the Academy’s Honorary Award for lifetime achievement last year. At 63-years-old, the man is still kicking ass and his latest film, The Foreigner, displays a depth of talent which may have not been apparent to those who haven’t followed his career. For those that have, this isn’t like many of his other films where there’s been an implicit current of humor. Instead, the focus here is on an emotionally driven plot with moments of levity provided by the dichotomy between to the two main players.
I’ve been watching his films for the better part of 20-years and I can honestly say, you’ve never seen him like this before. He has always displayed a deep and well rounded range of emotion throughout his career, but the scripts usually don’t take his characters too far down any one path. It probably wasn’t until his turn as Mr. Han in The Karate Kid reboot that American audiences were exposed to his dramatic capabilities. In this instance, Chan wears the mask of despair quite well. His character, Quan, is a man beaten down by the tragedies of his life who embarks on vengeful journey to hunt down the terrorists who killed his daughter in a political bombing. The complexity of the character is far more nuanced than his more run-of-the-mill roles as a kung fu detective. Pitting him in the Rambo-esque part probably seemed risky, but Jackie rewarded those who had faith in him by delivering a pinnacle performance in his already legendary career. The 63-year-old commands his scenes with relative ease his physical style lent itself wonderfully to the type of movie this was. I really enjoyed his performance and am personally very happy to see his career have a new possible trajectory. While he may not take home any year-end hardware for his efforts, he reinvigorated his career and reinvented himself for a new audience…similar to Liam Neeson’s resurgence after the surprising success of Taken.
Pierce Brosnan was a good bit of fun to watch throughout this one as well. Playing a government official with a dubious past, Liam Hennessy, he winds up directly between Quan and his targets. He plays the de facto villain role quite well with a smooth blend of suave resolve, restrained charisma and occasionally marked intensity. It was the perfect match for Chan’s quiet humility. Brosnan’s ability to shift gears came in handy for this duplicitous character and it was rare thing to hear him speak in his native Irish accent. His experience in the James Bond franchise brought with it some reverence and helped to cement the international feel of this film. Michael McElhatton’s presence carried some gravitas with it as well. He has an unmistakable screen presence that is domineering even without much in the way of dialogue as Hennessy’s right hand man.
Director Martin Campbell did a marvellous job letting this film thrive in its simplicity. The premise is pretty straight forward. It’s a revenge story with some surprises along the way and David Marconi’s screenplay, based on the novel The Chinaman by Stephen Leather, gets right to the point. Poignant dialogue without useless filler really helped expedite the pace and, even with a nearly two-hour runtime, the ante is always getting upped so there’s not much waiting around. Cliff Martinez composed a wonderful score which elevated the film and helped keep things on track. There’s a breadth of emotion and intensity in the music that, both subtly and powerfully, steers the audience in the right direction. Martinez had his finger on the pulse of this story and it was evident in the final product. Capturing the spirit of this story was more important than merely translating it to film and the trio did that exceptionally well. Campbell’s work on Bond films GoldenEye and Casino Royale came in handy for this story which unfolds across the United Kingdom. It captured the international flair of The Bourne Identity series while managing to carve out its own identity within the subgenre.
No Jackie Chan film would be complete without exceptional stunt work and practical effects and to little surprise, the legend and the master still does all his own stunts and choreography work. His timing and rhythm is still spectacular and his patented fighting style brings so much more authenticity to a film like this one. Chan’s wisdom and experience has a trickle down effect that shows with everyone he works with and has gone a long way in endearing him to so many. I have always preferred real explosions in films, a) because they look way better on camera and b) because they bring a more real experience out of the performers. Since this film revolved around the use of explosive, good pyrotechnics was a must. Digital explosions would have killed momentum in this movie. Pyrotechnicians Toby Stewart and Joe White did a spectacular job blowing stuff up and the magnificence of their explosions was key in hammering home the importance of that part of the plot dynamic.
While the film pulled in a respectable $12-million on its debut at the domestic box-office, it has raked in a massive $88-million in foreign markets over the first two weeks. The majority of that money came from the Chinese market, but it’s an impressive feat for a film with a $35-million budget. This isn’t the kind of film that is going to win awards at the end of the year but it’s still a lot of fun. It has already do pretty well financially and could potentially spawn some future ventures (although forcing a direct sequel isn’t really in the cards here). This was one of the films I was most excited to see this year and it was a pleasant surprise to see just how well it turned out.
Recommendation: For Jackie Chan fans, this movie is an absolute must. For the casual movie goer, with the current crop of films currently making theatrical runs, this one is definitely at or near the top of the list. It’s just the right blend for an action film and puts a movie like American Assassin to shame. The R rating is appropriate, but the violence isn’t gratuitous.