THE FOREIGNER

dir. Martin Campbell

reviewed by Dakota Drobnicki

Thanks to the ever-increasing influence of the Chinese market on international box office totals, we finally have another Jackie Chan vehicle making its way to a wide theatrical release in the States! One of the world’s greatest entertainers returns to American screens for the first time since the 2010 remake of The Karate Kid.

Many fellow Jackie fanatics haven’t taken as kindly to his recent work as I have. Skiptrace for example, his recent buddy comedy with Johnny Knoxville, is a rollicking good time that I’ve seen fans and critics regularly bash to high heaven.

The hype for this particular film has been pretty intense, though, which I’d assume is because it’s both Jackie’s grand return to Hollywood and an uncharacteristically serious turn for him. It’s not like he hasn’t done serious films before—Crime Story, Shinjuku Incident, the last two Police Story movies are all pretty intense—but he hadn’t done one that reached for an American audience until now.

Jackie Chan is Ngoc Minh Quan, a Chinese restauranteur in his sixties whose daughter dies in a bombing from a new chapter of the Irish Republican Army. Broken by the loss of his entire family, he hits up government buildings every day looking for names of the bombers responsible, an effort that leads him to Irish deputy minister Liam Hennessy (Pierce Brosnan). Hennessy is a former IRA member himself, who Quan suspects is secretly involved in the buildings. Over the remainder of the film, Quan’s series of violent retaliations pushes Hennessy into action to take care of the rapidly increasing IRA bombings in London.

(Those of you unaware of the IRA and English/Irish politics might want to do even a tiny bit of research on that before going in, even minimal knowledge will help quite a bit with understanding the exposition.)

I’m of two distinct minds about this film—the objective mind, which found this movie overall well-done and engrossing, and the Jackie Chan fanatic upset by the film’s misleading marketing. Spoiler alert: every Jackie action scene you see in the trailers? That’s all you get! Obviously they don’t have the full scenes, but you’re given the full gist of them before going in.

The first act builds Quan as the narrative focus, but as it goes on, he devolves more into a side character who pops out of the film for 20 minutes at one point. Even then, there are points where Quan is difficult to identify with as a protagonist. Maybe it was the power of my fandom overloading my emotional state, but seeing Quan crying over his daughter’s death quickly forced my own waterworks into gear. This alone should have me on board with any action Quan takes from this point on.

However, I wasn’t fully on board with the scene where Quan uses groceries to plant a bomb Hennessy’s office bathroom, and tonally it felt like Quan transformed into a slasher movie villain instead of a hardened Taken-esque protagonist. Besides, what if Quan’s hunch about Hennessy’s involvement was proven incorrect? You kinda know from Brosnan’s first scene that something’s off about him, but the movie could’ve easily flipped at that point and switched Jackie from an antihero to a full-on villain with little effort.

Actually, that’d be really interesting, and even further off-type for him, but alas.

If the movie around him hadn’t been as captivating as his action sequences, you’d be picking up a more furious tone here. The real bulk of the film revolves around Hennessy and the political intrigue around the bombings, even if Hennessy still isn’t painted as the protagonist per se. Martin Campbell directs these scenes in a procedural manner that may come off as too dry for people wanting Jackie Chan, but anyone with a more objective approach coming in should have no issue getting into it.

Brosnan is brilliant as an Irish politician prone to whiskey, profanity and infidelity, whose influence in the British government is shaky but critical to peace between England and Ireland. Still not sure how he got into the British government when his prideful IRA membership is public knowledge, but I’ll roll with it. I mean, it’s not like I follow British politics that well anyway.

All in all, I can easily recommend this film to just about anyone with an interest in political thrillers, but people coming in for Jackie Chan could potentially be easily disappointed. If this hadn’t been the first wide American theatrical release one of his starring roles has received in years, I’d be less upset—his lowered presence might convince unaware viewers that he’s just too old to be doing much anymore.

Hopefully with this film already making its money back in China before it touched American soil, Jackie will release more of his standard action-comedy fare to screens here too. I guess we’ll have to see how this film performs to make that kind of judgment.

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