Jackie Chan suffers in The Foreigner, Lady Gaga unmasked

Jackie Chan as a dramatic actor; an immersive look at Singaporean daily rituals; and a stripped-down Lady Gaga

Jackie Chan in The Foreigner.
Jackie Chan in The Foreigner.PHOTO: GOLDEN VILLAGE
Lady Gaga in Gaga: Five Foot Two.
Lady Gaga in Gaga: Five Foot Two.PHOTO: NETFLIX

This week's releases seem to be about authenticity. Everyone's favourite action hero, Jackie Chan, shows fans a little-seen side of him: the dramatic actor. But never fear - his character might be suffering, but the therapy is to deliver kicks to the heads of his enemies.

Then there are two documentaries, both aiming to peel away masks, but might there be more masks beneath?

In The Foreigner(NC16, 111 minutes, opens tomorrow, 2.5/5 stars), Chan heads West to make this revenge thriller, which also stars Pierce Brosnan and is directed by Martin Campbell, the same man who helmed Brosnan's James Bond debut in GoldenEye (1995) and Daniel Craig's first outing as the spy in Casino Royale (2006), still considered to be one of the best Bond movies.

But the movie business can be fickle and, here, Campbell's talent seems to be wasted on a movie that cannot seem to reconcile its hard, Rambo-ish violence with a convoluted conspiracy plot involving political and personal treachery in Belfast and London.

Quan (Chan) is a proud dad and London restaurant owner whose life is shattered when his daughter is killed in a terrorist bombing. He fixates on British official Liam Hennessy (Brosnan) as an agent of the destruction and uses his formidable set of skills, learnt in the jungles of Vietnam, to extract answers.

The set-up is promising, but the film's makers have difficulty knowing what to do with Chan's character. Quan is the standard Chan underdog, seen in many of his films, but his character's interactions with fellow Chinese are stiffer than day-old noodles.

Jackie Chan in The Foreigner.
Jackie Chan in The Foreigner. PHOTO: GOLDEN VILLAGE

And perhaps because of Chan's own doing - he is a producer here, after all - Quan's transformation from dotard to deliverer of death is sudden, unearned and convenient. He appears and disappears from secure locations with Batman-like ease. A stress ball, pumped vigorously in a clenched fist, is all the exercise he needs to go from soup master to superhero.

A new documentary from Singapore film-maker Tan Pin Pin, In Time To Come (PG, 62 minutes, opens tomorrow, 4/5 stars), should provide more truth, but it will not come in the usual form.

Tan makes creative documentaries, works of non-fiction that include stylistic ideas taken from fiction cinema. The result is undeniably artsy - the images of Singaporeans performing typically Singaporean daily rituals are shown devoid of narration or context-setting text - but as she has intended, the mood is immersive and calming.

This is edited to fit a 62-minute run time, but it could have been 62 hours or 62 seconds and it reminds one of the Norwegian "slow television" shows, in which an entire days-long train journey across a scenic landscape is broadcast.

Tan's work, greatly enhanced by sound designer Lim Ting Li, is reality television designed to not grab the viewer by the collar - it is more like an invitation to dream, to ask questions, to notice details happening at the edge of the frame.

 Five Foot Two.
Lady Gaga in Gaga: Five Foot Two. PHOTO: NETFLIX

From a documentary deliberately purged of drama to one about a person who is drama personified. Gaga: Five Foot Two (NC16, 100 minutes, now showing on Netflix, 3.5/5 stars) tracks the pop star for the year leading up to the release of her 2016 album, Joanne.

This is a period in which she sheds the persona of Lady Gaga, the seller of over-the-top theatricality, for a rootsier, stripped-down image. In the process of making the album, Stefani Joanne Germanotta (her real name) sheds more than her campy hats and Pop Art dresses. As the camera shows, she loses her composure over album sales, loses her cool over her role in the TV show American Horror Story and loses her peace of mind when her health takes a turn for the worse.

But are viewers seeing the real Gaga? She does speak earnestly about broken relationships with men and the loneliness of life on the road, but in one telling sequence, she reads a poem about masks beneath masks.

To say emotions run high in many sequences would be an understatement, but it's the smaller moments that stick to the mind, such as when she calmly doffs her bikini top while taking a business meeting by the pool. Her British colleagues, all women, emit a tiny sound, then move their eyes elsewhere while pretending not to notice. Well done.


A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on September 27, 2017, with the headline 'True colours'. Subscribe