You will be redirected back to your article in seconds

Film Review: ‘The Foreigner’

Jackie Chan goes up against Pierce Brosnan and the IRA in an old-fashioned suspense movie from the director of 'GoldenEye' and 'Edge of Darkness.'

Martin Campbell
Jackie Chan, Pierce Brosnan

Rated R  1 hour 54 minutes

Official Site: http://www.imdb.com/title/tt1615160/

Jackie Chan has broken a lot of bones over the years — his own, and those of his unfortunate onscreen rivals — but for the life of me, I can’t remember ever seeing Chan cry. But cry he does in “The Foreigner,” an old-fashioned one-man vendetta thriller very much in the vein of its director Martin Campbell’s gnarly 1985 miniseries “Edge of Darkness,” in which the opening stretch allows the action-comedy stunt master a chance to flex an entirely different muscle: his tear ducts.

Chan plays Quan Ngoc Minh, an immigrant restaurant owner who demands justice after his daughter is killed in an IRA-linked terrorist attack. Yes, you read that right: The villains in this U.K.-set action movie are Northern Irish radicals who call themselves the “New IRA” — which is just one of the curiosities you get when taking a pulpy 1992 suspense novel published five years before the IRA ceasefire and attempting to set it a quarter-century later.

That book would be Stephen Leather’s “The Chinaman,” whose name has wisely been changed (although not that wisely, because who really wants to see a movie generically called “The Foreigner”?). And while the title, time and a few small details may have been altered or updated, the result is nothing if not dated, even if its premise clearly echoes the edginess of living in Europe today. For starters, practically everyone in “The Foreigner” still refers to Chan’s character as “the Chinaman,” which is the kind of description that one associates more with episodes of “Deadwood” than modern-day Belfast or London (the epithet is by no means equivalent to the more specific labels of “Frenchman” or “Englishman,” in that it has traditionally been used as a blanket term for Asians of all nationalities).

But — and this is a key distinction — the movie is keenly aware of the West’s long tradition of white-on-Asian racism, and “The Foreigner” flips the script on the tradition of Hollywood studio movies in which a white hero kicks foreign butt in some exotic country. Ask yourself, what is the U.K. equivalent of someone upsetting an innocent vendor’s fruit cart during a footchase through a crowded bazaar? Could it be Chan blowing up the lavatory of a shady bureaucrat? Or perhaps punching holes in the walls, windows and roof of a cozy Irish bed-and-breakfast? Beyond that novelty, “The Foreigner” amounts to an above-average but largely by-the-numbers action movie in which Chan does battle with generic thugs and shadowy political forces. The message here is unmistakably not to underestimate or ignore Asian immigrants, who just might be elite human weapons, trained by the U.S. government (and even if they’re not, deserve to be treated with the same respect as other citizens).

Financed mostly with Chinese money, but directed by two-time James Bond helmer Campbell (who reunites here with “GoldenEye” star Pierce Brosnan), “The Foreigner” offers Chan a unique chance to emote before shifting into more conventional vigilante territory. In the opening scene, Quan picks up his teenage daughter from her London school and drives her to a local dress shop, where a bomb kills 19. The authorities — including Brosnan’s ex-IRA deputy minister, Liam Hennessy — are astonishingly slow to react, but Quan persists. He shows up and waits humbly at the London police station, where he attempts to bribe the (non-white) lead investigator (Ray Fearon) for the names of those responsible. When that fails, he starts to track Hennessy, whom he (correctly) assumes will lead him directly to the culprits.

Through all of this, Chan looks sadder than we’ve ever seen him, his eyes droopy and wet with tears. He shuffles as he walks, half-paralyzed with grief (or perhaps it’s just the decades of punishment he’s given his joints), and one wonders whether the character he’s playing could so much as block a punch, much less take on a room full of terrorists. “The Foreigner” appears to be a different kind of role for Chan — one of those grieving-parent types who puts the pressure on a law-enforcement hero to do his job — and while that may be true to a degree, it ultimately offers the same opportunities for elaborate displays of martial-arts dexterity that we’ve come to expect from Chan in the past (along with a rather elaborate and entirely unnecessary backstory about how he acquired these skills and why he’s so angry).

When asking nicely gets him nowhere, Quan travels to Belfast to confront Hennessy directly, planting a series of bombs — in his office, his bodyguards’ car, his country safe house — to get Hennessy’s attention. But Hennessy is distracted. He’s busy trying to arrange his own deal (for the pardons of scores of old IRA buddies), and juggling complicated personal relationships with not just the movement’s former leaders (any of whom could be responsible) but also his wife (Orla Brady) and mistress (Charlie Murphy), either or both of whom could also be involved. All of which makes it easy for the “old man” to go on “running circles around the lot of us.”

But why, in a world with so many real human threats, does “The Foreigner” resurrect the “Troubles” between Northern Ireland and the crown? If anything, this feels giving the West a taste of its own medicine, since entertainment and elections alike have long drummed up fear and hysteria around anyone of off-white skin color, when the statistics show that mass killings are just as — if not altogether more — likely to be perpetrated by white people. In the movie, multiple Asian teens are killed in an all-too-plausible (albeit dated) act of political terrorism dreamed up and carried out by a faction of the IRA. It’s an effective reminder that however scared white Londoners are of foreigners, the foreigners living among them have even more reason to be afraid, living in a country where they could wind up as collateral damage in senseless white-on-white violence. And because this time around Asians are the ones telling the story, it falls to a superstar “Chinaman” to set things right.

Film Review: 'The Foreigner'

Reviewed at Arclight Hollywood, Los Angeles, Oct. 5, 2017. MPAA Rating: R. Running time: 114 MIN.

Production: A STX Films release, presented with Sparkle Roll Media Corp. of a Fyzz Facility, Arthur Sarkissian, the Entertainer Production Co. Ltd. production. Producers: Jackie Chan, Wayne Marc Godfrey, Arthur Sarkissian, Qi Jianhong, Claire Kupchak, Scott Lumpkin, Jamie Marshall, Cathy Shulman. Executive producers: Joe Tam, Sunny Sun, David Marconi, Philip Button, Felice Bee, Donald Tang, Robert Simonds, Adam Fogelson, Oren Aviv. Director: Martin Campbell. Screenplay: David Marconi, based on the novel “The Chinaman” by Stephen Leather. Camera (color, widescreen): David Tattersall. Editor: Angela M. Catanzaro. Music: Cliff Martinez.

With: Jackie Chan, Pierce Brosnan, Ray Fearon, Orla Brady, Tao Liu, Charlie Murphy, Katherine Davies, David Pearse, Rufus Jones, Nial McNamee.

More Film

  • Come as You Are review

    SXSW Film Review: 'Come as You Are'

    The rare remake that’s actually a slight improvement on its predecessor, Richard Wong’s “Come as You Are” translates Geoffrey Enthoven’s 2011 Belgian “Hasta la Vista” to middle America. Other changes are less substantial, but this seriocomedy has a less formulaic feel than the original while remaining a crowd-pleasing buddy pic-caper with a soft-pedaled minority empowerment [...]

  • Strange Negotiations review

    SXSW Film Review: 'Strange Negotiations'

    In a era when some mainstream entertainers have transitioned to targeting faith-based audiences, David Bazan is moving in the other direction. The gifted songwriter’s ersatz band Pedro the Lion was perhaps the most successful Christian indie rock act of its time, and the first to significantly cross over to secular fans. Then he ditched that persona (and [...]

  • Bluebird review

    SXSW Film Review: ‘Bluebird’

    As affectionate as a love letter but as substantial as an infomercial, Brian Loschiavo’s “Bluebird” may be of most interest to casual and/or newly converted country music fans who have occasionally wondered about the songwriters behind the songs. There’s a better than even-money chance that anyone who’s a loyal and longtime aficionado of the musical [...]

  • ‘Wonder Park’ Tops Studios’ TV Ad

    ‘Wonder Park’ Tops Studios’ TV Ad Spending for the Fourth Week in a Row

    In this week’s edition of the Variety Movie Commercial Tracker, powered by the TV advertising attention analytics company iSpot.tv, Paramount Pictures claims the top spot in spending for the fourth week in row with “Wonder Park.” Ads placed for the animated film had an estimated media value of $5.18 million through Sunday for 1,718 national [...]

  • Michael B. Jordan Jordan Vogt-Roberts

    Film News Roundup: Michael B. Jordan, Jordan Vogt-Roberts Team for Monster Movie

    In today’s film news roundup, Michael B. Jordan is producing a creature feature, billiards champ Cisero Murphy is getting a movie, the sixth Terminator movie gets a title, and Graham King receives an honor. PROJECT UNVEILED New Regency and Michael B. Jordan’s Outlier Society are partnering on an untitled monster movie from “Kong: Skull Island” [...]

  • Nicolas Cage

    Nicolas Cage to Star in Martial Arts Actioner 'Jiu Jitsu'

    Nicolas Cage will star in the martial arts actioner “Jiu Jitsu,” based on the comic book of the same name. The cast will also include Alain Moussi, who stars in the “Kickboxer” franchise. Dimitri Logothetis is producing with Martin Barab and directing from a script he wrote with Jim McGrath. Highland Film Group is handling [...]

  • Chinese success of Thai film "Bad

    Chinese, Thai Shingles Pact for Co-Production Fund at FilMart

    A deal to establish a 100 million yuan ($14.9 million) co-production fund between China and Thailand was struck at FilMart on Tuesday to help launch TV and film projects that will appeal to Chinese and Southeast Asian audience. The deal that was struck by China’s Poly Film Investment Co., TW Capital from Thailand and Thai [...]

More From Our Brands

Access exclusive content