‘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.