Legend is a much abused word in the movie business – but Jackie Chan really is a legend. The undisputed king of martial-arts movies kicked up a notch with slapstick and jaw-dropping stunts, the star is acrobatic poetry in motion. American audiences know him best from his three Rush Hour action comedies with Chris Tucker (No. 4 is on the drawing board), but true aficionados rightly point to Chan’s death-defying Hong Kong cinema epics – see Drunken Master, Police Story and Armor of God – as pinnacles of the form. The lifetime achievement Oscar he won last November was richly deserved and long overdue. Chan turned 63 in April, but age hasn’t slowed him down a bit.
In his new film, The Foreigner, Chan is still doing his own stunts (computer-generated effects are for Marvel wimps!) and they’re still killer. The big surprise here is that the revenge thriller, from two-time Bond-movie director Martin Campbell (Golden Eye, Casino Royale), is no laughing matter. It’s the most dramatic role Chan has ever tackled, and he plays it with coiled intensity and raw emotional power. His low-key character, named Quan Ngoc Minh, is an immigrant restaurant owner in London. Then the man’s life is shattered when his teen daughter Fan (Katie Leung) becomes collateral damage in a terrorist bomb attack. The culprits, Northern Irish radicals who call themselves the new IRA, escape justice. Quan decides to wage his own war. And since he’s had secret government training, his enemies would be stupid to underestimate him.
Based on Stephen Leather’s novel The Chinaman, the film – with a tight script by David Marconi – doesn’t waste time with niceties. Quan tries to bribe a London police investigator (Ray Fearon); failing that, he pleads his case to former IRA deputy minister Liam Hennessy (Pierce Brosnan, bringing real star power to the role), who seems unwilling or unable to help him. The plot thickens, and sometimes even congeals, in an effort to take audiences down a few familiar dead ends. Chan, naturally, picks up the slack with the force of his will.
For starters, Quan hits the road to Belfast, ferreting out some key clues about Hennessy’s IRA connections while the minister tries to prevent a clash between his wife (Orla Brady) and his mistress (Charlie Murphy). All the while, the vengeful “foreigner” watches silently, waiting to spring. Chan lets us see the pain course through the face and body of this broken father who knows revenge won’t brings back his daughter. But his stealth tactics are a pleasure to watch, and it all ends during a free-for-all at an apartment where household appliances are turned into weapons of Chan destruction. Campbell keeps the action cooking and the suspense on a high burner in this compulsively watchable conspiracy thriller, while The Foreigner proves again is that Chan is the Man – now and forever.