Re­venge mis­sion stuck in a quag­mire

Too much talk, not enough Jackie Chan in film about im­mi­grant’s quest to avenge daugh­ter’s death


Movie Re­view

The For­eigner Warn­ing: 14A Grade: BTheatres, show­times, pages 30-31

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 prom at the start 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 are sick of his pan­der­ing to the English and want a lit­tle ac­tion. To these frus­trated Ir­ish folk, Bri­tish-based for­eign­ers like Quan get bet­ter treat­ment than they do, so why not raise a lit­tle hell like in the good ol’ bloody days.

While Liam’s folks en­gage in their in­ter­nal back­stab­bing, Quan qui­etly and swiftly gets his re­venge.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 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 es­sen­tially square off in their own lit­tle civil war, with the well-off Ir­ish politi­cian hid­ing in his com­fort­able room twirling a whisky glass and di­rect­ing min­ions to deal with Quan, while the for­eigner 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 fo­cuses too much on the Ir­ish­man’s crew’s dou­ble-cross­ings and far too lit­tle in cul­ti­vat­ing 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 pretty half-heart­edly to make us sym­pa­thize with Chan’s char­ac­ter, who isn’t given many lines to show off his sig­na­ture charisma.

The in­clu­sion of the Bri­tish law en­force­ment also com­pli­cates the po­lit­i­cal di­men­sions, yet the film is bereft in us­ing po­lit­i­cal and cul­tural con­text to make it lit­tle more than a semi-en­joy­able ac­tion film.


Jackie Chan, left, and Pierce Bros­nan are at odds in The For­eigner.

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