When some action actors age, they start seeking opportunities to prove the audience that they are capable of more than swinging fists and shooting guns.
We saw it happen to Sylvester Stallone in 1997 when he changed his muscles to fat by gaining 4o pounds and made his almost action-less drama debut as the sheriff in Cop Land. We saw Arnold Schwarzenegger dig into comedy as the pregnant scientist in Junior in 1994. For good or ill. (‘I’ll be back’ and other famous lines from The Terminator don’t count nor does the unintentional comedy Conan the Barbarian.)
In The Foreigner, Jackie Chan, 63, delivers one the greatest performances of his career. His daughter is killed; he seeks justice. And there’s no humor in the hunt. He is a patient warrior with a buried past. A past that makes him a nightmare for guys like Pierce Brosnan, who portrays the Irish deputy minister.
There have been many stories of men seeking justice before, but we haven’t seen Jackie Chan with 151 movies in his résumé turning in a drama performance like this. In The Foreigner, acting comes first, action second. Chan portrays his disgust for all things bad with tears, anger and knuckles.
The storyline is based on a novel The Chinaman, written by the British thriller author Stephen Leather. Leather wrote the novel while working the bat shift at The Times in London in the ’90s, and it was received quite well. The book is wonderfully adapted by director Martin Campbell, who is best known for resurrecting the James Bond franchise in 1995 with GoldenEye, starring Pierce Brosnan.
In The Chinaman, the protagonist is a mild-mannered owner of a Chinese restaurant resorting to violence as a last option after being pushed around like a lonely king on a chess board. Jackie Chan digs deep into this character. The tears are real, kicks and punches are purposely slowed down, and while Chan himself looks young like Aira Samulin, he wears a thick make-up all day long that makes him look like a sad street dog that has gone through hell and come back.
What a performance!
‘The Foreigner’ premieres in cinemas December 1.