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‘The Foreigner’ Finds Jackie Chan Taken To A Dark Place (Movie Review)

I suppose it was inevitable to see Jackie Chan enter the ‘old man action’ phase of his career. More specifically, The Foreigner finds Chan entering this part of career when it comes to his English-speaking roles in films given a wide release in America. Chan has maintained a steady level of popularity as an international action star in both dramas and comedies, but here’s a film that gives his American fans a chance to look at Chan in the kind of role that has given actors like Liam Neeson and Denzel Washington a career surge. Chan, of course, excels at the action, but his gravitas helps as well, along with a strong counter role offered up by Pierce Brosnan.

The Foreigner stars Chan as Quan, a humble shop-owner living in London. When his daughter becomes collateral damage during an act of politically-motivated terrorism, the hunt is on to achieve vengeance. Quan finds himself eventually dealing with Liam Hennessy (Brosnan), a former IRA member who has now become a British government official. Hennessy may or may not be linked to the terrorist bombing, but Quan will not stop until he gets the answers he wants from him.

Based on the novel The Chinaman by Stephen Leather (good thing they changed that title), director Martin Campbell finds himself handling another film that may rebrand an established star, as well as re-team with his GoldenEye lead. Having rebooted Bond twice successfully, it stands to reason that Campbell’s skills as an action director would line up well with Chan. Those suspicions are correct, as the film does manage to deliver on several action sequences that play up Chan’s abilities, even as he dials back the inherent humor that often comes with them. This is a serious-minded thriller, after all, but we still get great wide shots and close-quarter action beats to fulfill a pulpy level of intensity.

Also impressive is making this movie achieve a higher level of standing by complicating things for Brosnan’s character. Whether or not Hennessy is a villain, it is at least clear he has been in contact with the terrorists involved inadvertently, which means he must work hard to clear things up before he’s forced to suffer some real consequences. Much like Phillip Seymour Hoffman in Before the Devil Knows Your Dead, I am highly interested in these (possible) criminal types who have everything exacerbated around them, while trying to fix the initial problem.

Compared to a standard action-thriller (that may or may not feature an ‘old man’ action star) that originated from some notes written on a napkin by Luc Besson for one of his protégés to direct, there’s room for more than just the relentless hunt led by the protagonist. It’s not quite a convoluted story, as everything is presented clearly and the supposed twists aren’t exactly fresh, but the chance to explore two sides of the same situations is welcome. Chan gets to do his action thing, as well as emote in a way that shows he can be plenty effective dramatically while speaking English (not unlike The Karate Kid remake). Meanwhile, Brosnan can continue exploring another anti-Bond type role with aplomb.

Those looking for lots of action will have to settle for only so many elaborate scenes. That said, just remember that Taken only has so much action and it doesn’t start until nearly midway through the film. With The Foreigner, audiences can enjoy seeing Chan take down plenty of adversaries without playing up his abilities to a point that feels inauthentic. Sure, the action star is known for his wild stunts, but the self-serious nature of the film lends itself to authentic action that is nonetheless crowd-please because, hey, Chan’s the man with this kind of stuff.

There’s also something to be said for the nature of the villains, as the film almost feels like a 90s throwback by involving a group connected to the NRA in some way. It’s no Clear and Present Danger in terms of mixing political intrigue and action, but there’s a level of context that is given its justification as opposed to some of the more standard (and often xenophobic) leanings when it comes to thrillers with terrorism as a focus. Perhaps that comes down to this being a British/Chinese production, which could also explain this film going for a (somewhat light) R-rating, as opposed to a watered down PG-13 offering.

Chan has spent decades playing up a specific image and holding back from embracing villain roles, but The Foreigner at least offers up a sad and angry character for him to dig into. He’s handled drama plenty (his Police Story series was initially and more recently rooted in drama), but here’s a star teaming up with a great action director and a co-star who is more than willing to have some fun of his own as an authoritative figure struggling to keep afloat. Mixing a standard revenge-action film with a compelling counter plot has worked well for this group. Not bad for Chan, as he’s continually proven he can handle anything thrown at him.

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Writer/Reviewer, Film Lover, Podcaster, Video Game Player, Comic Book Reader, Disc Golfer & a Lefty. There are too many films, TV, books, etc. for me to list as favorites, but I can assure that the amount film knowledge within my noggin is ridiculous, though I am always open to learning more. You can follow me on Twitter @AaronsPS4, see what else I am up to at TheCodeIsZeek.com & check out my podcast, Out Now with Aaron and Abe, on iTunes.

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