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The Foreigner (A Movie Review)

Updated: Mar 17, 2020

The Foreigner


Starring Jackie Chan, Pierce Brosnan, Tamia Liu, Ray Fearon, Katie Leung, Rory Byrne, Charlie Murphy, Dermot Crowley, Michael McElhatton, Simon Kunz, Stephen Hogan, Orla Brady, Rufus Jones, Mark Tandy, John Cronin, Caolán Byrne and Sean Gleeson.

Screenplay by David Marconi.

Directed by Martin Campbell.

Distributed by STXfilms. 116 minutes. Rated R.

In The Foreigner, a 60-something-year-old man who runs a Chinese restaurant in London beats up, blows up, fools, evades, emasculates and basically terrorizes dozens and dozens of tough mercenaries, mad bombers, bodyguards, cops, soldiers, politicians and rogue members of the IRA.

I know what you are thinking. I was too: At this point in history, doesn’t IRA mean an individual retirement account? I mean, of course, I remember the Irish Republican Army, but hasn’t that conflict pretty much been worked out for the last two or three decades? Granted, I’m not totally up on British and Irish politics, but I haven’t heard anything about terrorist bombings in London and Belfast for many, many years.

Welcome back to the surreal – and yet sometimes enjoyable – world of Jackie Chan.

Chan plays Quan, a widowed father of two girls who runs the family restaurant. In the tense opening scenes, Quan takes one of his daughters shopping for a prom dress, and while she is in the shop and he is parking his car, a bomb goes off. Quan’s daughter is one of a dozen fatalities. It turns out, through some sketchy military back story, that Quan has extreme special ops and bomb-making training skills (none of which have dimmed in his decades as a restaurateur) and he decides to single-handedly take down the people responsible for the bomb.

When responsibility for the bombing is taken by a rogue unit of the old IRA, Quan turns his wrath on Liam Hennessy (Pierce Brosnan), a former-IRA-member-turned-diplomat. Quan is determined that Hennessy give him the names of the bombers, so he starts a concentrated campaign of terror – bombing his office, his farmhouse and his Jaguar, attacking and beating his bodyguards, setting traps on his land, following him and sending threatening texts, all to gain the information.

Ironically, while it’s obvious from the start that Hennessy is not completely clean, he really does not know the names of the bombers and is trying to figure out himself who did it, so much of Quan’s subterfuge is simply obstructing the investigation. However, Hennessy sends out waves and waves of henchmen to take down the rogue restaurant manager, and as usual in a Jackie Chan movie, he rather easily dispatches each one through traps, trickery, and martial arts.

Honestly, it seems like Brosnan as the sketchy Irish politician has considerably more screen time than Jackie does, which is probably for the best, because while Chan is by far the superior stunt man, Brosnan is far superior as an actor.

Not that Chan does much in the way of acting here: as a grieving father out for vengeance, he pretty much limits himself to mournful contemplation and occasional explosive rage. This dark performance is definitely a change in pace from the normal upbeat characters Chan has specialized in over the decades.

And while Chan’s action sequences are still popcorn fun, it’s obvious the actor has lost a step. Chan is famous for doing all his own stunts, usually in long, flowing takes. It seems like the action sequences here are much shorter, diced and sliced with lots of quick cutaways. There were even some shots that are filmed in such a way (body shots with the face obscured, extreme long shots, shots taken from behind, extreme quick cuts) that one might imagine a stunt double may have been employed. Not that I’m ragging on Chan, his acrobatic stunt work is still damned impressive. I’m younger than he is and I could not do a fraction of what he does here.

The Foreigner is based on a 1992 book called The Chinaman by Stephen Leather, which probably explains the film’s outdated political slant. The whole Northern Irish clash just feels awkward, like a peek into a world no longer there. It would have probably worked better had they made the film as a period piece set in the 1980s.

However, people going into a Jackie Chan movie know what they are getting into. They are not looking for realism, a sense of history or plot clarity. They are just looking for a fun action film. They are looking for Jackie to kick ass, jump from high buildings and blow stuff up. In that sense, The Foreigner is definitely a success.

Jay S. Jacobs

Copyright ©2017 All rights reserved. Posted: October 13, 2017.

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