A humble businessman with a buried past seeks justice when his daughter is killed in an act of terrorism. A cat-and-mouse conflict ensues with a government official, whose past may hold clues to the killers’ identities.
I grew up in Ireland in the ’70s and ’80s idolizing Bruce Lee, Chuck Norris, and Jackie Chan. While Lee and Norris were more straightforward in their fighting techniques, Chan made a name for himself as he added insane stunts and over-the-top humor to his particular style. The man is absolutely lucky to be alive. As he performed all of his own stunts when he was younger, he has had more near-death experiences than anybody on the planet and has the injuries to prove it. Over the course of his career, he has sustained a broken nose, knocked out tooth, lacerated lip, chin injury, dislocated shoulder, broken breastbone as well as several fingers, damaged tailbone, spinal damage, skull fracture, bone cave-in behind his left ear, and brain bleeding from falling out of a tree. This is only a partial list. Jackie Chan is a legend and has produced some of the most spectacular action-packed movies in history so when word came that he was going to be making a movie starring alongside the ultimate action icon, James Bond himself, Pierce Brosnan, all of fandom rejoiced but before you geek out, know that “The Foreigner” is not your typical Jackie Chan vehicle. The man is now 63 years-old so his high-flying, no-safety-net stunt extravaganzas are no more. Instead, we are treated to a sophisticated action thriller that caters to both Mr. Chan’s and Mr. Brosnan’s age, and delivers a taut, intelligent, and overall, enjoyable two hours of screen time.
Ngoc Minh Quan (Jackie Chan) lives in London and owns a Vietnamese restaurant, of which he and his teenage daughter Fan (Katie Leung) live above it. As the school year comes to an end, Fan has her father drive her to a store in town so she can pick out her dress for the upcoming school prom. As she makes her way into the store, a bomb is detonated directly outside of it and cars, glass and debris are scattered everywhere. When the smoke clears, Quan discovers Fan inside the store and sits down on the ground, holding her lifeless body in his arms. Later, word comes out that a group who call themselves the Authentic I.R.A., have claimed responsibility for the attack. When British government official Liam Hennessy (Pierce Brosnan) finds out about the bombing, he is livid. As a past member of the I.R.A. who fought for years for peace in Northern Ireland, he fears that these new attacks will set back almost twenty years of progress between the North and the U.K. and demands from the men and women in his party, to find out who is responsible, no matter what the cost. Quan visits the local police station daily, wanting to know the names of the bombers but the police inform him that they do not know as it is an ongoing investigation. On the TV one night, Quan sees Hennessy being interviewed and asked about his past spent with the I.R.A. in years gone by and decides to pay him a visit.
At his office, Hennessy gives his condolences to Quan for his loss but when Quan presses him for the names of the bombers, and Hennessy tells him that he doesn’t know, this triggers a war between the two men. Quan refuses to believe that Hennessy knows nothing and sets his sights on him. Everywhere he goes, Quan is always one step ahead of him. When Hennessy moves his wife to their country retreat, thinking they’ll be safe there, the barn is mysteriously blown up and no matter how many men are sent out after him, they keep coming back in pieces. When news surfaces that someone close to him is working with the terrorists, Hennessy tortures them for the names and locations and passes it along to Quan, knowing that he will take care of business and nothing will be tied back to him but even after Quan makes his way to the terrorists’ location, he and Hennessy discover that another bombing has been planned in a very public place, and now it is up to both men to try and stop the detonation before the body count rises.
It’s been a long time since the I.R.A. were the bad guys in a movie, off the top of my head, 1997’s “The Devil’s Own,” with Harrison Ford and Brad Pitt comes to mind but once the peace accord, known as the Good Friday Agreement, was put in place between Northern Ireland and the U.K. in 1998, the I.R.A. put down their weapons and the killings and bombings stopped. That is what “The Foreigner” is based upon, it mentions the peace accord several times and how long it has been in place but for the sake of dramatic license for the movie, a fictional arm of the former terrorist organization is created and tensions between the British and Northern Ireland begin to surface once more. While it could be very easy to get caught up in the politics within, at the end of the day, this is a personal story. The Chinese people are known for their cultural belief that if a loved one is taken from them at the hands of another, they must appease the spirits of the dead, no matter what, and this comes in to play throughout the entire film. Quan won’t take no for an answer and when Hennessy repeatedly states that he knows nothing, even with a gun placed to his head, Quan, who trained in the Chinese military in his youth, knows that while he may be telling the truth, because of his past ties to the organization, and with Quan’s constant incitement, it is only a matter of time before he or someone within his group talks.
Martin Campbell, who directed Pierce Brosnan in his first Bond outing in “Goldeneye,” and then nine years later directed Daniel Craig in “Casino Royale,” proves very adept at orchestrating terrific action set-pieces and fight choreography. As I stated earlier, Chan does not indulge in over-the-top fighting and sparring, instead, given his age, the fighting techniques he employs are more believable and realistic, more akin to streetfighting than prearranged martial arts. He is not a superman either, he doesn’t brawl with Hennessy’s men and come out on top every time, while he might walk away in one piece, sometimes just barely, he endures his own scars and wounds along the way. Chan plays Quan with just the right amount of conviction, he is an intelligent man of action, he doesn’t walk blindly into a situation before assessing it and because of his training, he has learned to anticipate his adversary’s every move while being cautious enough about not undermining them either. Pierce Brosnan has moved into playing more bad guy roles and while his Liam Hennessy isn’t necessarily a bad guy, per se, he does have his own hidden agendas which just happen to coincide with many of the events that unfold herein. Brosnan has always been a solid and convincing actor, regardless of what role he was playing and here, he does not disappoint. Watching the two screen legends side by side was invigorating, it just made me wonder what kind of movie they could have made together twenty or thirty years ago.
In theaters Friday, October 13th