At age 63, Jackie Chan has been through a lot. I’m personally a huge fan of who my father affectionately called “The Chan Man” back in the 90’s, when Dimension Films got ahold of the catalog of his older stuff and started releasing films like “Mr.Nice Guy”, “Twin Dragons”, “Jackie Chan’s First Strike”, and more. After success with “Rumble in the Bronx” in 1995, Jackie was put on the map in America after a few previously failed attempts in the early 70’s and late 80’s. Dad would rent a new Chan Man flick every week from the local video store at one point, and we were always excited to see what insane stuff he would get up to in each one, what crazy ways he would take on the bad guys next, and what props and tools he would employ with each new adventure. It always seemed like Jackie could always find ways to outdo himself, and whenever he had a movie make it to theatres, I made sure to check it out.
The thing about Jackie Chan’s method of movie-making is that obviously, it’s hard on the body. With Jackie having gotten his start in Peking Opera and stuntwork, he’s been a non-stop dynamo of action ever since he originally hit it big, and despite a lack (until now) of Western live-action films in the past few years, he’s still remained very active in Asia, where his stardom is still massive not only from movies, but clothing lines, workout equipment and merchandise, and even a singing career.
Carrying on from his stunt background, one of the main pieces of appeal about Jackie Chan that even most non-fans know about him is that he insists on doing his own stunts. He’s often remarked about how overly safe Western films are, and commonly gets more freedom with performing over-the-top, death-defying stunts in his Hong Kong-produced films. This style and insistence on exact action choreography combined with the bangs, bumps, and bruises he gets when a stunt goes wrong (or sometimes right), has led to him having an absolutely insane collection of injuries that would make most trauma surgery staff blush. Read his autobiography: I Am Jackie Chan for a great chapter on him recalling all of his painful mementos from various film stunts.
At this stage in the game, after nearly 4 decades of stunts, fight scenes, and insane falls, you might be wondering: has Jackie still got it? The Foreigner, directed by Martin Campbell and also starring James Bond alumni Pierce Brosnan, has your answer.
The Foreigner is based on the 1992 novel “The Chinaman”, by Stephen Leather, and features Jackie Chan in one of his most serious, intense, and dramatic roles in recent years, or probably ever. Jackie is known for silliness and goofiness and has mentioned in interviews that comedy was the way he intended to separate himself from other on-screen tough guys, or his predecessor Bruce Lee, who Hong Kong based legendary film producers The Shaw Brothers attempted to reinvent him as. That flair for comedy is more or less non-existent in The Foreigner, with Jackie playing a refugee from Vietnam who now owns and operates his own Chinese restaurant in London. After his daughter, played by Katie Leung, is tragically killed in a bombing that is claimed by a supposed new faction of the IRA, he sets off on a one-man mission to find the names and identities of the bombing suspects, and to take a page from Liam Neeson’s book and use every last skill he has available to get them back.
Pierce Brosnan plays an Irish government official tasked by the British government with exposing the bombers and solving the case, but everything isn’t as it seems with his involvement, and after getting some tips, Jackie heads to Ireland to sort things out.
The Foreigner is totally different than Jackie’s other movies. It’s not non-stop action, but the action featured is, of course, well-designed, well-shot, and well-executed by its star, who definitely still manages to pull off every single punch, kick, throw, and shot in the movie to convincing effect. There isn’t a single moment where I thought Jackie looked too old or wasn’t effective in what he was doing, and considering his age and injuries, that alone is worth the price of admission.
The plot has plenty of twists and political intrigue, with great performances from Brosnan and the rest of the cast. I was genuinely surprised at how conscious of real-world European political tensions the movie was, as well as impressed by there being more to the movie than Jackie wanting to get back at his daughter’s killers (which is still the driving force and I would’ve been okay with just that. I enjoyed Taken after all). Brosnan playing a less-than-charming role and Jackie playing a serious part shows that each of them were willing to take a risk with this movie, and it pays off. I compared it to Taken, and many have, but I would wager to say that although it has less action, The Foreigner is by far the better written and acted movie, with things staying interesting until the final moments.
The main story, of Jackie getting revenge, is a little bit by-the-numbers. I also found myself questioning how the Irish government didn’t have anyone a little bit more capable on hand to deal with a trained special forces operative. They still send middle-aged guys (excluding one exception) with little real training after Jackie throughout the film even after they find out about his status, which seemed a little unlikely to me. I know this was probably done so that you didn’t have a whole movie of Jackie beating the crap out of younger, well-trained operatives, but the capabilities of the guys picked by a government official dealing with a serious threat did stand out to me a bit while watching it. I quickly brushed that aside though, and if you can, you’ll be in for a solid thriller with some great trademark action from Jackie Chan. He uses the same cleverness and ingenuity you see in his other films applied in an R-Rated, ruthless way here.
One of the only other ways The Foreigner could disappoint is if you expected non-stop martial art fueled actionfest, which it isn’t. I don’t mean to sound insulting, but maybe Jackie is moving away from that at his current age and is moving in this direction now: focused, quick action that gets right to the point. The marketing did kind of present it like his older movies so I can understand why someone might be going in expecting something else, but I was pleasantly surprised. For delivering action that kicks Father Time in the throat and a solid script, I give The Foreigner with Jackie Chan and Pierce Brosnan:
4 out of 5
+Jackie Chan still has those moves
+Plot line holds up
+Enough action for the martial arts fans, enough dialogue for the movie fans
-Fans searching for a classic martial arts movie may find more plotline involvement than usual.