LESS ACTION, MORE TALK
Jackie Chan takes on the IRA
Jackie Chan actually cries in
The Foreigner. Playing Quan Ngoc Minh, once an immigrant to the U.K. and now a British citizen, Chan has forlorn eyes, grey hair and rugged, normcore clothing.
He runs a Chinese restaurant and is overprotective of his daughter, who excitedly tells Papa Jackie about the dress she plans to buy for the upcoming prom at the beginning of the film. Within a few minutes, she dies in a bomb explosion, and Quan gives up his meagre existence to find out who killed his daughter.
Quan’s mission is simple, but the politics around the bomb — planted by a new IRA cell — are complex. The Foreigner may refer to Chan’s character, but screenwriter David Marconi makes the mistake of devoting far too much time to the Irish-English political quagmire storyline that is led by Irish Deputy Minister Liam Hennessy (a scraggly bearded Pierce Brosnan), once an IRA man, now a politician trying to mediate Irish-English relations.
Liam tries to keep the peace, but clandestine members of his political committee and beyond — including his wife — are sick of his pandering to the English and want a little action. To these frustrated Irish folk, Britishbased foreigners like Quan get better treatment than they do, so why not raise a little hell like in the good old bloody days.
While Liam’s folks engage in their internal backstabbing, Quan quietly and swiftly gets his revenge, not making things any easier for Liam. He refutes Quan’s request for the names of the bombers with diplomatic politician speak, so Quan replies with his own IRA-style tactic, bombing the inefficient politician’s bathroom inside his dusty, bureaucratic building.
Liam’s men realize Quan is just as knowledgeable about bombs as they are, though his backstory as a U.S.-trained fighter and his family sacrifices are quickly rushed over.
Liam and Quan square off in their own little civil war, with the well-off Irish politician cowardly hiding in his comfortable, richly furnished room twirling a whiskey glass in his hand and directing minions to deal with Quan, while the foreigner — ever so nimble and resourceful — picks them off one by one.
The trailers for The Foreigner are deceptively action-packed. When the scarce action sequences do arrive in the film, they’re a refreshing change of pace from Liam’s boring, chamber-room IRA politicking. The film wisely doesn’t let Quan get away too easily from his attackers, and it also highlights the physical damage of a revenge mission on the weary older man.
The Foreigner is based on Stephen Leather’s 1992 book The Chinaman and adapted for current times, but it fails to convincingly establish why a secret IRA cell might still act out. Instead, the script bases much of its running time on the Irishman’s crew’s various double-crossings and far too little establishing Chan’s character, who comes off as a silent lone wolf cipher.
The imbalance of story attention between the titular Foreigner and the Silently Furious Irish People may explain why sales for this U.S.-China co-production have done so poorly in China. The film tries half-heartedly to make us sympathize with Chan’s character, who isn’t given many lines to show off his signature charisma, yet he’s clearly the one we should be rooting for. Instead, we get one too many close-ups of Brosnan’s furrowed face as he sips whiskey and looks puzzled.
The inclusion of the British law enforcement — led by the notably non-white Commander Richard Bromley (Ray Fearon) — also complicates the political dimensions of The Foreigner, yet is bereft in using political and cultural context to make the film little more than a semi-enjoyable action film.
Jackie Chan fans might be surprised by the serious tone of his latest film effort The Foreigner — which focuses on dialogue instead of the usual action.
Jackie Chan’s Quan Ngoc Minh, left, and Pierce Brosnan’s Liam Hennessy are at odds in The Foreigner.