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Martin Campbell Reflects on Directing Jackie Chan in 'The Foreigner'

Action star Jackie Chan and director Martin Campbell were a fine match. In The Foreigner, Campbell’s eye for clarity and Chan’s physical prowess resulted in top-notch action. Not only were the set pieces crystal clear yet dirty, they were dramatic. The revenge story, in which Chan’s character loses his daughter in a terrorist attack and wants names, was elevated by the appeal of the actor’s old and new talents.

During an upcoming career-spanning interview, Campbell told us about his experience working with the icon.

Chan in action is a cinematic delight. The actor and stunt master had his talents well-captured by Campbell, who wanted to show another side of Chan as a leading man. “He was very good in The Karate Kid,” Campbell said. “He was excellent. Again, it was a serious role, not a funny role, and that was what convinced me he’d be very good. He’s a fine actor, Jackie, outside of what he does so brilliantly. A terrific guy, too. What you see is what you get.”

A Different Side of Chan

Chan fights with determination and purpose in the film, but not the speed and precision that defined his classic films. Despite Chan’s power and skills on display in The Foreigner, there’s also a sense of aging and struggle. “With The Foreigner, Jackie had to suppress all his natural instincts, certainly in the action scenes,” Campbell said:

“I was quite tough on him, in terms I wanted to keep the old man feel about him. I made his body language hunched a little bit, old man-ish. I mean, Jackie was 65 at the time, but he’s very fit. I kept the action all within the military if you know what I mean. I wanted it to be military. I didn’t want any of his tricks or any of his dropping ladders over the heads of waiters, which he does so brilliantly. He agreed to do that, and you know, that was a great thing.”

Campbell, who will admit when he missed the mark, like with The Green Lantern and Defenseless, is proud of The Foreigner and Chan’s performance. The thriller features all-around strong work, including Cliff Martinez‘s dynamite synth score, which has a fan in Campbell, too. “Wasn’t it great?” Campbell asked:

“Really good. On these films, you don’t have a lot of money for music, like all these things. When you’re budgeting a film, post-production tends to get pushed to the background a bit. The money for music is difficult. You have to go searching for people who are very good and, secondly, want to do your movie because you clearly can’t pay them what they would normally expect for a movie. It’s the independent world. Of course, that’s what happens.”

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