We all know revenge flicks. They focus on men – because most revenge stories do feature men at their center – usually placed in impossible situations that threaten both them and their loved ones. And when things go bad, as they invariably do, our protagonists spend the rest of the movie looking for those who did them wrong. And exacting some personal justice, usually with, as they say, extreme prejudice.
Revenge is rage. And rage is perhaps the last emotion you would associate with Jackie Chan. Even when he was first earning fame as a Hong Kong martial-arts star in the 1970s, Chan was known for his blend of comedy and action in such films as “Drunken Master” and “Half a Loaf of Kung Fu.”
And that continued as he, over time, became an international star, especially after 1995’s “Rumble in the Bronx” and on through the “Rush Hour” and “Shanghai Noon” films. In addition to his comic stylings, Chan was famous for attempting dangerous stunts, some of which ended up injuring him and the making of which were often added in post-film-credit sequences.
Revenge, Chan style, was almost always done with an eye more for Buster Keaton than Sylvester Stallone.
All of which makes “The Foreigner” something unique. Directed by Martin Campbell, and adapted from a 1992 novel by British writer Stephen Leather called “The Chinaman,” “The Foreigner” focuses on a man named Ngoc Minh Quan (played by Chan), who owns and runs a London restaurant. Proud of his young daughter, he is devastated when she is killed, along with several other victims, in a terrorist bombing.
So, who takes credit? Not ISIS or Al Qaeda, as you might expect. Straight from Leather’s novel, which was written during the height of the IRA’s bombing campaign of the 1990s, the guilty party is a group calling itself the “Authentic IRA.” Quan, sleepwalking through grief, begins to quietly but persistently hound the authorities, looking for the bombers’ identities. But he is turned away.
That’s when Quan’s other side emerges. His past, we discover, includes Special Forces training and a horrific ordeal fleeing Communist Vietnam. He will not be denied his requests, which then turn into demands – and which end up being directed at Irish deputy minister Liam Hennessy (played by the former James Bond, Pierce Brosnan).
Throughout all this, Chan plays a character we’ve seldom seen. A quiet man, his Quan is at first composed and careful, then grief-stricken and finally grimly determined. Even then, he is no Rambo. He kills only when he has to, though for a time he is given little choice.
And Campbell, a veteran filmmaker whose resume includes the Bond films “GoldenEye” (with Brosnan) and “Casino Royale,” skillfully follows a script that is as involved in the various subterfuges and betrayals among the IRA principals as it is Quan’s quest for justice.
As for Chan, now 63, he’s not the action star he once was. But in “The Foreigner,” he does manage to give a richer meaning to the act of revenge.