If you’re solidly into triple-digit IQs, you’ve already seen a bunch of Jackie Chan movies. You understand they’re brilliantly directed, with hilarious scenes, literally death-defying stunts, and action that begs to be rewound and watched again. Did he seriously just do what it looked like he did?
And if you’re a movie buff, you can delight in his homages alone: that scene is clearly a hat-tip to Buster Keaton; that one, to Chaplin… and that last shot was clearly a jab at Kubrick. And it doesn’t always work: his experiments with romantic comedies have had mixed results, and his pairings with American comedians often showcase how inversely talented he is compared to his costar of the day. Overall, though, his film career has been something worthy of celebration. Frankly, he is to action movies what Astaire was to dancing, or Garbo was to glamour. When the Czar first saw Chan’s 1985 film Police Story, he immediately stayed and watched it right through a second time. We were hooked.
There’s no denying Jackie Chan has slowed down in recent years. His ability to fly around the set, so effortlessly, is clearly wired and CGI, now. It’s a bit sad, really, especially when he’s trying to pander to the fan base—that last stunt was a repeat of the same one in Armour of God, but only half as fast. And that one? Totally taken out of Who Am I?, but not as funny this time. It’s almost like his career ended with Shanghai Noon in 2000. And a lot of his fans were turned off by his surprising 180° flip to support China, once they took control of Hong Kong. His attitudes toward the United States show equal elasticity, especially when he thinks no one around him understands Cantonese. And his recent stuff, in which he tries out different characters, has been dreck: his 2004 New Police Story is unwatchable, an homage to movies that themselves were awful.
Therefore, curiosity compelled us to watch 2017’s quiet release The Foreigner. All we knew going in was this film had a different look and feel. Quite so: whereas Police Story was a hilarious roller-coaster ride of thrills, The Foreigner may actually be one of Chan’s best films. Certainly, for the Czar, in the Top Three.
If you have seen any of his prior work, you understand that Jackie Chan invariably plays The Nice Guy (such as in 1997’s Mr. Nice Guydeserves it, and generally the bad guy causes his own pain by underestimating the Nice Guy.
The Foreigner is the most reversed-expectation film in Chan’s filmography. The film is quite grim, with no obvious humor at all, despite most thrillers generally putting in some comic relief, somewhere. Chan’s character is a broken man who is forced to do terrible, awful things for reasons he doesn’t even fully understand. Supported by no less than the furiously F-bombing Pierce Brosnan, the two play opposing forces: one, a bad man trying to do a good thing, and the other a good man increasingly embracing a very dark side, out of pure frustration.
There are bad guys, to be sure, but they’re basically the B-plot. The real story—with dozens of twists and turns—involves the two main actors locked in a bizarre contest. Brosnan’s character never fully understands why Chan’s character is doing what he does, and truthfully, Chan’s character doesn’t really seem to comprehend what Brosnan is trying to do, either. Despite the mutual confusion each has, the movie moves at a brisk, engaging pace with realistic reactions, seriously competent henchmen (instead of the usually vapid redshirts in Chan’s movies), and a lot of reasonable calculations by the characters.
And rather than dummy up or hide Chan’s age, the film embraces it—his 60-something character is slow, shuffles, limps on occasion, and can get badly injured. And rare for any film, injuries don’t heal after six camera angle changes. The special effects are good, and some scenes of terrorist-related bombings (and the aftermath) are terrifyingly accurate to real-life trauma: blood, dirt, and glass, not gore. One of the scenes, involving a London bus, was indeed so accurate that London’s metro police were called during filming, from terrified onlookers who have seen the real thing and didn’t realize this was a stunt.
If you sort-of enjoy Chan’s goofy, slapstick thrill-a-minute treats, you may find The Foreigner unfunny, brutal, and sad. On the other hand, if you really like Chan’s work, you may agree that this film is one of his absolute best—Chan’s acting is top-notch, moving, and even vicious. The Czar is sorry he waited so long to see it, and hopes that you don’t wait too much longer yourself.
Oh, and if you never got into Chan’s kung fu silliness, you may be surprised to learn this is a hard-R action film with deep political twists and keen eye for details. Actually, you may like it better than anything you’ve seen him do before.