J.B. Spins

Jazz, film, and improvised culture.

Thursday, October 12, 2017

The Foreigner: The Jackie Chan Crossover We’ve Been Hoping For

Jackie Chan is sixty-two and has broken more bones than most people knew they had. The same is true of Quan Ngoc Minh. The Chinese-Vietnamese Navy SEAL-trained commando lost nearly everything after the fall of South Vietnam, but he was content to watch his young daughter grow up safe and happy in London. When she is cruelly murdered in an IRA splinter group’s terrorist attack, Quan will stop at nothing to avenge her. Of course, he will need names, which he assumes the former IRA deputy minister for Northern Ireland Affairs can supply (and not without reason). A violent cat-and-mouse game thusly commences in Martin Campbell’s The Foreigner (trailer here), which opens tomorrow in New York.

Quan and his family were part of the Vietnamese boat people exodus, but his first two daughters were murdered by Thai pirates before they reached Singapore. From there, Quan managed to immigrate to England and establish legal citizenship, but his wife died giving birth to Fan. When the so-called “Real IRA” blows up the dress shop she was patronizing, Quan’s American training kicks in.

Hardnosed Commander Bromley is leading the investigation. He doesn’t seem to have many leads or any love for the IRA, so Quan keys in on the super-slick Liam Hennessy, who is essentially deputy minister for keeping a lid on the hotheads. There was a time when he was the one planting the bombs, but now he is “reformed.” Hennessy is playing a dangerous game, trying to extract more concessions from the British in exchange for intel on the terrorists. Naturally, he patronizes and grossly underestimates Quan, until the grieving father starts leaving warning bombs of his own. He also seems to be more than Hennessy’s former IRA thugs can handle, but just barely.

Chan is not a superman in The Foreigner. Frankly, he acts his age and maybe a little extra, taking some beatings nearly as bad as those in the bizarrely under-appreciated Police Story: Lockdown. It is somewhat surprising how much screen time he concedes to the rest of the cast, but this still might be his best straight-up dramatic performance. Still, the fights and stunt work is first-rate, so fans will not be disappointed on that score.

Just as the dour, angsty Chan will be new for most fans, the sleazy, venal, self-pitying Hennessey is a Pierce Brosnan we haven’t seen before either. He is such an unpleasant character, we quite enjoy watching him take flak from all sides. Orla Brady makes a spectacularly evil Lady Macbeth type as Hennessy’s slightly disappointed wife Mary, while Ray Fearon’s Bromley swaggers with authority.

Screenwriter David Marconi also deserves tremendous credit for updating Stephen Leather’s Troubles-set novel to the post-Good Friday era. Frighteningly, the hidden IRA weapons caches that are frequently mentioned are very real. Marconi and Campbell also clearly establish the factional rivalries and alliances within the IRA and its subsidiaries that they suggest still persist to this day. Sure, this is an action thriller, but it leaves viewers convinced the current peace remains perilously fragile.

Frankly, a lot of the IRA infighting material would still work in a movie without Jackie Chan, but adding him as the destabilizing fuse kicks it up to another level. This really is the kind of polished crossover production Jackie Chan fans have been hoping. Campbell has had a few misfires, like Green Lantern, but The Foreigner should re-establish him as one of the top action directors in the business (along with Casino Royale). Very highly recommended for general audiences, The Foreigner opens tomorrow (10/13) in several New York theaters, including the AMC Empire.

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