The Foreigner — Skeleton of a Black Comedy [Review]
The Foreigner

Film Info:

  • Genre: Action / Thriller
  • Director: Martin Campbell
  • Distributor: STXfilms
  • Starring: Jackie Chan, Pierce Brosnan, Michael McElhatton, Liu Tao, Charlie Murphy, Orla Brady, Katie Leung
  • Running Time: 114 minutes
  • Release Date: October 13, 2017

If you really want a serious Jackie Chan movie, watch Shinjuku Incident. Otherwise, this film isn’t that surprising for him at this stage in his career. He has always done action-comedy hybrids, so of course he would want to take some detours and change-ups at this point as he gets older and his body becomes less resilient to the wear and tear he has put himself through over his career. In any case, at first glance, I see The Foreigner as a bit like Taken on Prozac.

The Foreigner (not the Steven Seagal movie) is not a Jackie Chan movie; it’s a movie with Jackie Chan in it. There’s a difference there as it’s all about who the focus is in the film, and this one isn’t entirely about Jackie Chan’s character. It’s not to say he isn’t important to the plot at all—he is. However, he isn’t a protagonist as much as he’s a force of nature that turns what would’ve been routine into something a lot crazier.

Other than that, I don’t wish to talk much about how this is a serious Jackie Chan since I already saw that in Shinjuku Incident and I’m a Takeshi Kitano fan. Saying you can’t see a comedian doing serious movie roles is an ignoramus’ way of not liking change. However, to think while The Foreigner is all about a serious Jackie Chan and there wouldn’t be a hint of humor in it, the structure isn’t too unlike a black comedy.

Based on British journalist Stephen Leather’s book The Chinaman, which was written during the height of the IRA bombings a few years before the Good Friday Agreement, The Foreigner features explosions, bomb-making (Leather was also a biochemist), cookie-cutter intrigue, and an angry Jackie Chan.

The Foreigner

Jackie Chan is pretty good at being an unhappy person.

NOTE: As this is intended as a full review of this title, there may be some spoilers. You’ve been warned.

Story

The Foreigner is an Irish action version of Coen Brothers black comedy A Serious Man, with Pierce Brosnan as IRA Larry Gopnik and Jackie Chan as his karma coming to bite him. Whatever Jackie Chan’s character Quan suffered and did in retaliation during the course of The Foreigner’s current timeline is merely a consequence of whatever Pierce Brosnan’s character Liam Hennessy may or may not have done beforehand, and everything else is just out of his hands.

This movie could’ve been titled “Liam Hennessy’s Bad Week” and it would’ve been fine. It’s a schadenfreude extravaganza, wherein a man who isn’t totally innocent is made to tumble around helplessly from one problem to another. His past as an active IRA member and his present as a British-fellating politician makes him seem a bit more dynamic than Larry Gopnik, but they both sit on their hands nonetheless.

Life wasn’t as peachy as it looked at first for Liam. While he had some power, as well as villas and farms to call his own, his own wife resented him, his IRA brothers treat him as a turncoat, and the power base in England see him as a pawn. Then a bombing by supposed rogue elements within the IRA happened and it happened to have killed the daughter of a Chinese-Vietnamese guy who was crazy enough to interfere with their affairs.

The Foreigner

Look at how bereft he seems. Best broken man in recent film history. No alcohol or drugs needed.

Jackie Chan’s character Quan wasn’t even that big of a deal in the grand scheme of things, but he is a force of nature to be reckoned with in the story. He also seals Hennessy’s misfortunes in the end, making him pay for both his indiscretion and inaction. He’s the character that holds the audience over, anticipating his derailing of everything, and that’s about it. Without him, this movie would be a discount British version of The Sum of All Fears without Morgan Freeman.

Everything else that happens doesn’t really matter that much. The only details you need to know are the Irish here are militant as fuck and sex is just a means of manipulation. All the women in The Foreigner are snakes, everyone is backstabbing and trying to kill each other, and the only sensible character is Liam’s right hand man, who was just doing his job and not much else.

Also, the biggest winner in this story is Liam’s nephew Sean. He got to fuck his aunt, was spared by Quan, let off easy by his uncle, got to kill his aunt, and assumed to have flown back to New York without really losing anything while his uncle’s life fell apart. Meanwhile, the second biggest winner is the female British minister who makes Liam her bitch.

Casting

Perhaps the real topic of discussion here is the casting on the two main characters in the The Foreigner—Liam Hennessy and Quan. Perhaps it was a no-brainer for Jackie Chan to be Quan, but it could’ve easily been Jet Li as well, even though Chan had been the first option for the role anyway. As for the role of Liam Hennessy, it could’ve been Liam Neeson instead and it would’ve been fine, although Neeson has already “retired” from action movies.

The rest of the cast didn’t seem too out of place as everyone did well enough with their performances. Maybe the weakest link, if anyone was actually weak here, perhaps it was Rory Fleck-Byrne as Liam’s nephew Sean. He was supposed to be a badass, like a sub-boss of sorts with him being an ex-Royal Irish Ranger and UK Special Forces with a specialty in tracking. However, he didn’t have that aura of an experienced military veteran, even if his lines and affair with his aunt were supposed to exude that.

Also, Katie Leung as Jackie Chan’s daughter had me stoked, then devastated since Cho Chang got killed by a bomb. That was enough motivation for me to root for Quan.

The Foreigner

The gun here is a suppressed AR-18.

Direction

As an action-thriller, it has almost no fat in its narrative. Perhaps there were a few things that could’ve been trimmed, but it would’ve made everything else pointless. The whole thing was meant to be obtuse anyway, as with anything featuring modern day finagling with politics and terrorism ala-Tom Clancy. Therefore, with all of the standard backstabbing and manipulation going on here, perhaps some praise should be pushed towards the direction and editing.

As far as a western film goes, The Foreigner did well enough with the action scenes without sacrificing too much of Jackie Chan’s prowess. With the few fight scenes there were in this movie, they were able to not make them too jarring and the action was communicated clearly enough. However, the buildup towards Quan’s unleashing of his long-dormant abilities was lengthy enough to potentially make things a bit boring, especially for people who are unaware of the real world history involved in the plot.

Something else I found peculiar was the depiction of sex in The Foreigner. Perhaps it can be said for a lot of other movies, but I found it especially strange in this case due to how cut and dry the movie is. They only show the hot and heavy kind of sex, which weirds me out since I think they decide on that just because it’s the only way to depict cheating without gratuitous details on screen. It’s like the simulacra of sex, if you really think about it.

The Foreigner

This scene sealed the deal for Liam. It’s alright because fuck him.

Final Score

The Foreigner
5 out of 10
Pros
  • Plot based on Northern Ireland's Troubles
  • Pierce Brosnan and Jackie Chan's out-of-type performances
  • Sufficient plot twists
  • Web of intrigue without much fat
  • Jackie Chan can still go
Cons
  • Everything happens because Cho Chang gets killed
  • Cliché action movie for the most part
  • Jackie Chan's limited appearance
  • Jackie Chan without levity looks wrong
  • Pierce Brosnan mostly a reluctant observer
  • Pierce Brosnan made to forget he was once James Bond
  • Irish and British grunts are bumbling fools
  • Standard sex-as-manipulation tropes
  • Ending is a cop-out
Summary

The Foreigner does end up being a straight-up action revenge flick, but not without some peculiarities that set it a bit apart from the rest of its ilk. Without Jackie Chan's presence, this would've been just bland and uninteresting, even for history buffs who are in-the-know about the problems in Northern Ireland. Then again, it would've been impossible to not have the "Chinaman" in the film adapted from the book titled "The Chinaman".

(I'm 100% Chinese, so I should be able to use that term like how black folks can use the N-word.)

Other than that, there aren't too many memorable moments in this film. It's sufficient for what it was meant to do, but it did have to cheat a bit by making Jackie Chan more prominent in the trailer than he actually is in the film. If you wish to see Pierce Brosnan forget his James Bond training, then this is the film to see.

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