When I was younger I used to be a huge fan of Jackie Chan, from his cult classic 'Police Story' series of films to his entertaining action comedy capers 'Shanghai Noon' and 'Shanghai Knights'. As a young boy I always had a fascination with martial arts and Chan was among others such as Bruce Lee and Jet Li of my on screen idols. When I hit my mid teens, I dropped out of my Ta-Kwan-Do lessons and decided to focus on a new passion, writing. I still enjoyed watching martial art flicks but wasn't as obsessed with them as previously. As I got older, I became more interested in the film genres of crime and drama. So it was a surprise and a delight one evening, when I happened upon a Film4 Thriller/Drama called 'Shinjuku Incident', starring none other then Jackie Chan.
Although Jackie has done a handful of more serious films, he is most well known for his jaw dropping stunts, hectic and masterfully choreographed fight scenes and comic, light hearted style of acting. This film however made me reconsider my opinion of the actor, as I found both the story of the piece and Chan's acting engaging and impressive. Although there is a small amount of fighting and martial arts, the film is more about Jackie Chan's character and the physical and emotional toll he suffers, throughout the course of the narrative. So, you can imagine my excitement, when I first heard news that Chan was bringing out another film with him in a serious role. Having watched the Netflix film, I can gladly confirm that this is one of Chan's best performances. He brings a lot to the role and his gravitas in his performance is consistent throughout.
In a nutshell, The Foreigner focuses on Quan (played by Chan), who after the fatal death of his daughter in a London bomb attack, seeks vengeance and goes in search of the people responsible. At first glance, it would seem like your typical revenge flick, following in the same vein as such payback classics as 'Commando' and 'Taken'. What sets it apart though, is the political backdrop it is set against. The bombing is by a rogue IRA group and with it's detonation, both England and Northern Ireland are plunged into political chaos with the threat of a British Civil War from it's backlash. The character of Hennessy, played aptly by Pierce Brosnan adds another layer to the film and his relationship with the prime minister of England and his former IRA associates, prevents this from becoming just another box standard revenge fesh.
Despite their being that added layer of depth with the political angle, I did spend the first fifteen minutes of the film, contemplating that the death of the daughter and the father's decision for revenge, could be seen as glorification. At the end of the day, parents lose their children all the time but in reality, they wouldn't turn into Rambo and simply go on a killing spree. Life doesn't work like that and in a way to highlight that in film can be seen as a bit insensitive to anyone, who has actually experienced this sort of thing in real life. If there had been one scene where he was mourning the death of his daughter and then suddenly on the hunt for the killers, I would have very much felt it was glorification. In terms of story and Quan's character though, it is a little bit more thought out then that. Whilst he does eventually go rogue and take matters into his own hands, there is a decent amount of time where we see Chan mourning for the loss of his daughter.
During this period of grievance, his action in regards to the people responsible, is more realistic to what someone would do. He visits the Metropolitan police every day, pleading with them to find the people responsible. When that fails, he appeals to Hennessy, again very politely and humbly asking for him to help. It is only when these avenues of aid fail to help resolve the matter, that he decides to take matters into his own hands. Although, this can be seen in some senses of glorification, the way Quan's character is written and the way Jackie performs it, plus the later revelations of his past and backstory, makes it less insensitive. Quan, although out for revenge feels like a real person, not just a trained fighter with his finger on the trigger.
Martin Campbell has always been a director who has struck me as possessing that ability to deliver slick, smooth and stylish action, whilst at the same time having main characters that have much more going on, then their prowess at beating the crap out of anyone. He also has a good track record for implementing the ripple effect fictional events have on the political landscape of that world. 'Casino Royale' has all the classic traits of a bond film. Fast car chases, epic fight scenes, corny one liners but it was the first bond film, where I felt they tried to explore Bond's emotions. Yes, he is a cold blooded killer but he also has compassion and a sensitive side. Campbell has done the same here. Quan is a trained killer, taking down his enemies one by one but he is also a grieving father trying to deal with a tragic loss.
One of the things I very much liked about this film was how clever Quan is, in terms of his tactical planning and execution. They could have avoided all of that and relied on Jackie's mastery of martial arts. To have scene after scene of him working his way through room after of room of brutes, to get to his objective. Instead, Quan's character is more methodical in his approach. He sets traps, plants false trails and makes sure he is one step ahead of his foes, so his chances of prevailing in his outcome are far more likely. This makes sense, as both Jackie and his character are much older, meaning that to physically have to fight would be harder and waste precious energy and strength.
On the handful of occasions Quan is forced to fight, the sequences are devastatingly brutal. They play to Jackie's strengths with him using the environment around him to best his opponents but the close combat fighting is harsh in its delivery. Combine these two together and you have fight scenes, which are both realistic and impacting, whilst at the same time with enough flair to be surprising and entertaining. What is interesting about Quan as a character is that he doesn't actually kill anyone apart from those responsible. Admittedly, he does rough up those that get in the way quite a lot but he refrains from killing on several occasions, when it would be easier too.
As I have mentioned before, Quan is calculating and objectionable. His morale compass stops him from killing Hennessy's men but it is also a clever power play. By using other techniques such as the threat of death or blackmail, he can get the information he needs and secure his own safety better. Following on from this, it was a strong decision on the directing and writing front, to shake things up a little bit in the last act of the film. Instead of sending more men to be outwitted, disarmed and knocked out by Quan, Hennessy sends his nephew, an ex soldier, who fought in Iraq. This stops it becoming too easy for Quan and adding a sense of new threat and danger to the story.
Hennessy is an interesting and very well developed character. At first I found him rather dislikeable and then warmed to him and then later in the film, grew to really hate him. But what is clever about how he is written, is that there is no straightforward answer. He is neither good or evil. Hennessy hovers between, in a murky grey area, making it hard to form an decisive opinion of the character. The ones that surround him, particularly his ex IRA colleagues further add to this character's complexity and by the end of the film, I was faced with a character I strangely pitied in a lot of ways. Again though, his actions would then contradict with this and I would find myself at odds with the character again. Brosnan plays it very well, never revealing too much but hinting at possible secrets his character is keeping tucked away.
The tension and pace is achieved remarkably throughout, juggling both what is happening on a personal level with Quan and Hennessy and the larger political game that is happening with the Northern Irish and English governments. Finally you have the perspective of the bombers themselves. These three story arcs interspersed with one another, make for an exciting watch and when the three story lines come together at the end, the climax is exciting and dramatic. This goes to show how important editing is in a film's delivery, showcased in both the splicing and cutting together of events, as well as the skill of the edits during the fight sequences.
'The Foreigner' takes an overused and predictable revenge plot device and instills it with new life. It does this in a number of ways. Firstly, it takes a political topic that is still very fresh in terms of British history and executes it well, through both it's character writing and strong acting from a plethora of well regarded and praised Irish actors. Alongside that you have Jackie Chan bringing something completely new to the table. Probably one of his best performances, Chan presents a character who is broken emotionally and later on in the film physically. At the same time, he delivers just the right amount of stunts and martial arts, which at the age of 60, is pretty damn impressive. Although it is a revenge film at it's core, there are enough twists and turns to stop it from becoming too predictable. The fight scenes are well thought out, packing a punch but with enough of a tactical approach to not appear totally ridiculous. If you are looking for a revenge film that stands out from the endless copycats of 'Taken', then 'The Foreigner' is well worth your time. It still packs all the punches but isn't afraid to explore it's characters and the larger political world that surrounds them.