‘The Foreigner’: Ir­rel­e­vant, but Chan still en­ter­tain­ing

There is noth­ing re­mark­able about the new Jackie Chan film, The Foreigner. If any­thing, it should not be called a Jackie Chan film at all.


The back­story to the plot is a piece of his­tory too broad to be played out sim­plis­ti­cally as pre­sented in the film. Chan shares the head­lin­ing role as Quan Ngoc Minh with Pierce Bros­nan, the for­mer James Bond star who por­trays Liam Hen­nessy, a deputy min­is­ter from North­ern Ire­land who has the col­ored his­tory of be­ing a re­formed para­mil­i­tary leader.

Chan’s Quan is a fa­ther who loses his only daugh­ter in a po­lit­i­cally mo­ti­vated bomb­ing in Lon­don. The at­tack is linked to a rogue cell in a no­to­ri­ous North­ern Irish para­mil­i­tary group, thus set­ting Quan in mo­tion against Hen­nessy.

Full of twists and some solid ac­tion from Chan, the film is, how­ever, un­re­mark­able in the way that no char­ac­ter re­ally leaves any doubt among view­ers as to their fate. None of the char­ac­ters, save for Bros­nan’s, are in­ter­est­ing enough to fol­low. What is more in­ter­est­ing about this film is the his­tory be­hind the story.

Based on ac­tual his­tory, The Trou­bles was a bru­tal ethno-na­tion­al­ist guerilla war driven heav­ily by re­li­gion, which pit­ted the pre­dom­i­nantly Catholic sep­a­ratists who wanted a united Ire­land against the pre­dom­i­nantly Protes­tant union­ists, who wanted North­ern Ire­land to join the United King­dom.

The con­flict killed more than 3,000 peo­ple be­tween 1968 and 1998 and was driven pri­mar­ily by sep­a­ratist para­mil­i­tary groups try­ing to ful­fill their dream of se­ced­ing from the UK by the use of vi­o­lent force.

The his­tory of the North­ern Irish con­flict is one that is too frag­ile, too tragic and too large to be han­dled in the sim­plis­tic way The Foreigner plays it out for the sake of en­ter­tain­ment. Al­most all good films about The Trou­bles are those that poignantly show the ef­fects, the af­ter­math and the con­se­quences of the civil war through the eyes of the af­fected. Typ­i­cally, the only peo­ple with the right to emerge as he­roes in a Trou­bles-themed film are the North­ern Irish. Daniel Day-Lewis’s 1997 film The Boxer and Steve Mc­Queen’s 2008 film Hunger are two ex­am­ples that bril­liantly il­lus­trate the con­flict, and both films bring out its he­roes and en­e­mies well. You can­not sim­ply insert an Asian man out of nowhere as the po­ten­tial sav­ior of a con­flict that is so com­plex, and then present him as a hero. Sure, Quan’s rea­sons for tak­ing on the para­mil­i­tary cell might not be con­nected to the ac­tual con­flict, and his role might even be an imag­i­na­tive de­pic­tion of how an in­no­cent man might re­act if such a con­flict af­fected them per­son­ally. But placed in the scope of the con­flict’s ac­tual his­tory, his ex­is­tence seems ir­rel­e­vant. Chan’s main draw is his leg­endary mar­tial arts skills, and his moves look el­e­gant in com­par­i­son to his Irish foes’ use of brute force. When Chan puts his fight­ing skills on cam­era, he shines, even though his age ren­ders him lesser than his younger self. With that said, it is kind of re­fresh­ing to see Chan act in a se­ri­ous Western film af­ter years of be­ing hor­ri­bly type­cast by Hol­ly­wood as the smart, fight­ing-mas­ter part­ner to an Amer­i­can co­me­dian. Freed of the need to bounce off the comedic en­ergy of his pre­vi­ous col­lab­o­ra­tors, such as Chris Tucker, Johnny Knoxville and Owen Wil­son, Chan is able to step away to cre­ate a char­ac­ter that is truly his own. Good for him. It shows that he does not need a crude Amer­i­can co­me­dian by his side for him to per­form well — if only he were to do so in a more in­ter­est­ing film. The Trou­bles might prob­a­bly be one of the mod­ern world’s most pas­sion­ate wars and one that is so fraught with in­ter­nal and ex­ter­nal di­vi­sions that it is un­clear if the war ever ended at all. As shown in the film, there might still be some old fighters out there who re­sent ever mak­ing peace with the Bri­tish, and who have the power to reignite the con­flict once more. As seen through Chan’s char­ac­ter and sev­eral oth­ers in the film, when some­thing hap­pens that af­fects some­one on a per­sonal level — even an ir­rel­e­vant foreigner — re­venge will be served. But hold­ing onto vengeance might con­sume their life, ren­der­ing them un­able to love prop­erly.

Still has it: Jackie Chan shows off his mar­tial arts skills in The Foreigner.

Man to man: Chan’s Quan Ngoc Minh (left)comes face to face with Hen­nessy (Bros­nan) in The Foreigner, which re­volves around a ter­ror­ist at­tack that takes the life of Quan’s daugh­ter.

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