Review – Chan vs. Bond (“The Foreigner”)

International martial arts superstar Jackie Chan goes against James Bond #5 in a terrorist-based, plot-twisty story where Chan plays just a secondary character. Not exactly the Jackie Chan movie you’d expect, but a real gritty espionage thriller instead.

Based on the 1992 novel, The Chinaman, by Stephen Leather, Jackie Chan is Ngoc Minh Quan, a simple restaurant owner in downtown London. One tragic day, his only daughter is killed in a supposed IRA bombing, but the Irish say they aren’t responsible. Some new and unknown faction/splinter group of the IRA claims responsibility and that sets former IRA leader, British First Minister Liam Hennessey (Pierce Brosnan with an Irish accent) in a rage. The last thing he wants is another war between Ireland & Britain after 19 years of peace.

Who are the bombers, want do they want, and will they strike again? These are also the questions that Quan wants to know, and he wants the answers NOW! Obsessed with his daughters death and tenacious about finding out who the bombers are, Quan goes all Rambo/MacQuyver on Liam, utterly convinced that he knows who the bombers really are. Quan, who turns out to be an ex-special forces soldier (well, that was convenient!), and devises all manner of booby traps, bombs, and nasty little scares to drive Liam crazy and away from his city home to his lavish country farm house.

Intertwined in this story are the terrorists, their outside liaison in the field, an innocent reporter, and intrepid Police Commander Richard Bromley (Ray Fearon) who makes a sinister deal with Liam to capture the terrorists. The bombers will strike again, but are they going to leave a secret ‘code word’ behind, and who knows about this? While all this skullduggery is taking place, Quan is closing in on Liam, forcing the Minister to call upon  his nephew, Sean Morrison (Rory Fleck Bryne), to hunt down Quan. After a second bombing and things going way south, all bets are off and Quan gets what he came for.

If you’re a fan of Jackie Chan (like me), you’ll be both disappointed and surprised with this film. Do NOT expect the ol’ Jackie Chan of years gone by (c’mon, the man is pushing 65 and has broken every bone in his body with his canon of movie stunt work), as this Jackie is more dedicated to his acting craft now, rather than his kick-assery (is that a word?). With a twisty-turning script by David Marconi (Collision), the infrequent stunt work here takes a back seat to the clever and taught screenplay. In fact, it’s all that excess martial arts side-stuff that slows the story down! Which brings me to director Martin Campbell.

Campbell has done some outstanding work (Mask of Zorro, Casino Royale) and some epic fails (Green Lantern, Legend of Zorro). Here, he’s somewhere in the middle. His direction ranges from nice set-up shots to remarkably bad fight scenes. Geez, Louise, this is Jackie Frickkin’ Chan, the film worlds martial arts master! He knows how to shoot a fight scene, why can’t YOU?! Thank goodness there were precious few fight scenes to screw up.

Chan is terrific here as the grieving father; so believable and true in his acting, even though he goes all Rambo later on. Also excellent here is Brosnan, sporting that accent and really biting into his role with great veracity. There’s a finite quality about this movie, like many of those PBS British mystery thrillers. All the acting, even from the supporting characters, is just wonderful. I’ve always maintained that British films seem to have a better style to them than ours do.

Yes, the film does occasionally meander and slip into silly-land with Quan’s fantastic skills and ability to know everything about everything, but stick with the backstory(s) and have some fun. This isn’t your standard B-revenge flick that’s cranked out for the $5 DVD bin at Walmart; this is so much more.        

 
Death Sentence (2007)
*
 
The Klingon’s have a saying, “Revenge is a dish best served cold” and in this story of your average Joe, that saying plays out in gruesome fashion. Based loosely on Brian Garfield’s novel and directed by horror master James Wan (Saw, The Conjuring, Insidious), this slice of American pie has blood dripping all over it.
 
Nick Hume (Kevin Bacon), his wife Helen (Kelly Preston) live an idyll life in suburbia with their two sons, older hockey-playing Brendan (Stuart Lafferty) and younger Lucas (Jordan Garrett). But while stopping at a seedy gas station one night, Brendan is killed as part of a gang initiation. Nick ambushes the thugs, pulls off the killer’s mask, and sees his face. However, when it comes to court-time, Nick doesn’t I.D. him, deciding on some payback instead. Ah, but after Nick stone-cold kills his sons murderer, there’s a problem: the gang now wants their payback too! And gang psycho leader, Billy (Garrett Hedlund), is sure that Nick is responsible.
 

What follows is a string of attacks on Nick by several gang members, and leading Detective Jessica Wallis (Aisha Tyler) to speculate that Nick killed the perp in the first place. The thing about crazy gangs is, that they get crazier when they don’t get their way, and soon Nick gets in WAY over his head. The gang attacks and leaves his wife dead, son in a coma, and Nick nearly killed.

But whatever doesn’t kill you makes you crazier, right? After the brutal attack, Nick undergoes a sorta Jekyll/Hyde transformation, not unlike Travis Bickle in Taxi Driver. Shaving his head, arming himself to the teeth, and wearing his late sons jacket, he goes after Billy and the rest of the gang members. The ending is all-too crazy and weird. Ian Mackenzie Jeffers adapted the screenplay with all the same stereotypical stuff you’d expect to see in a revenge picture of this kind.

The gang members are all the usual: screaming, laughing lunatics, outrageously dressed, and all have the same (yawn) personality. The police are all dumb and offer nothing in helping out the weak and defenseless, and the father who goes for his revenge suffers greatly, but succeeds at a terrible cost.

Cookie-cutter stuff that you’ve seen before with some added bonuses; lotsa violence and decent acting by Bacon. James Wan, noted for his gore on screen, likes his blood ‘n’ guts and doesn’t shy away from it here. The best thing about this ho-hum movie is Bacon’s performance, which is quite intense. 

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