The Foreigner starring Jackie Chan worked so much better than The Foreigner starring Pierce Brosnan. Alas, director Martin Campbell (Casino Royale, Goldeneye) forces the latter down our throats, and I can’t help but wonder why.
I was actually very much intrigued by the idea of Chan starring in a revenge/action film a la Taken, but without the daughter surviving. Don’t worry, that’s not a spoiler — it’s in the trailer above. The veteran martial artist plays Quan Ngoc Minh, father to Fan (Katie Leung). The film opens to the two on a car ride throughout the busy streets of London. Minh is headed with Fan to the dress shop, where his daughter expects to find a beautiful dress for prom (I believe it’s prom, that is). The love Fan has for her father is obvious — “I just want you to like [the dress],” she says in the scene. Minh clearly loves his daughter, too, asking questions about this boyfriend of her’s, Chappy.
When they arrive to the shop, Minh drops off her daughter and the two go on their way. Moments later, a bomb explodes near the shop and kills many, including Fan. This begins Minh’s revenge plot, where he strives to avenge what was left of his family.
Enter Bronsnan, who plays Liam, the Irish Deputy Minister and former IRA (an Irish rebel/militia group) member. This old chap is in the thick of things as it’s made clear that he knows who’s responsible for the bombing, and Minh wants names. No, seriously, him wanting to know the names is a running gag for almost 20 minutes in this film, but it works.
There are two storylines that The Foreigner follows, which honestly is its downfall. I didn’t care for the amount of detail given to Liam’s story. This isn’t a smart action film with clever plot devices. Let The Foreigner just be Chan kicking butt, and this is a decent time at the theater. But no — Campbell forces his hand and tries to spin a web that attempts to be clever when unwinding at the end. There’s a point in the second act where Chan’s character practically becomes nonexistent, and my girlfriend leaned over to me and asked if this is even his film.
That’s the thing, y’all: This is supposed to be Chan’s film because it works much better when it isn’t Brosnan’s. When it’s the latter, we are hit with a script that reveals itself to be utterly shallow. I wasn’t expecting Oscar-type writing from David Marconi (who based this off the novel The Chinaman by Stephen Leather), but there needs to be something that at least clicks throughout films like these. In the case of The Foreigner, we’re treated to an entire second half that produces few instances of Chan and too much of Brosnan. I don’t care for the film trying to be more dynamic than it needs to be — just be a decent action film!
And please, don’t get me started on Brosnan’s Irish accent that sounds far too exaggerated at times (edited this line for clarity, because Brosnan is, of course, Irish). His monotone cadence struggles to deliver impact in his more emotional scenes.
Chan still has the fighting chops, though, and somehow fits in some passable acting for a film of this caliber. There’s an emotional moment where we see his character sitting in a room alone, reminiscing on his daughter’s death as his coworker Lam (Tao Liu) walks in and tries to help him through the situation. Tears trickled down Chan’s face, but the scene wasn’t overdone. This was the closest The Foreigner got to separating itself from “just another Taken film.”
Another positive other than Chan’s scenes lies with the camerawork during action sequences. The fast-paced fighting choreography, while not mind-blowing, was easy to follow along. There are shots that made me feel claustrophobic in the midst of Chan fighting off two baddies and other shots that made me feel like I was hanging over a ledge, myself. These unique moments were sparse throughout the film, but a nice touch nonetheless.
Luckily, the film is under two hours, but I was frustrated. Nothing blew me out of the water, and its negatives unfortunately hindered the film enough to distract from what really worked. And what really worked was The Foreigner as a Chan film, which this wasn’t.
I was blessed to attend a press screening of “The Foreigner” thanks to Allied Integrated Marketing and STX Films.
“The Foreigner” is rated R, runs 1 hour and 54 minutes and releases on Oct. 13, 2017.