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A Lack of Foreign in “The Foreigner”

By Albert Thai Le

Based on Stephen Leather’s 1992 thriller novel “The Chinaman,” Jackie Chan and Pierce Brosnan star together in “The Foreigner” (2017). Martin Campbell serves as the director for this film, offering a dark and gritty vision on the source material. Set during a time when chaos is a constant threat in the modern world, “The Foreigner” offers a narrative filled with explosive acts of violence that hits close to today’s reality of domestic terrorism. However, by the end of the film, audience members may leave the theatre unsatisfied with the overall execution of this film’s story.

Set in the United Kingdom, we begin with Quan Ngoc Minh (Jackie Chan) bonding with his teenage daughter on their way to a dress shop in preparation for an upcoming dance. This moment takes a turn for the worse when his daughter is suddenly killed in an explosion, planted by an alleged terrorist group called the Authentic IRA. Now the only surviving member of his family, Quan is stricken with depression and sets himself on a journey to solve one question: who were the names of the bombers? As a former special operative for the U.S., Quan must fight his way to chip answers from Liam Hennessy (Pierce Brosnan), a British government official and former member of the IRA. In this journey for vengeance, “The Foreigner” offers a gritty narrative of what happens to a man when he has nothing left but himself to lose. Well, sort of.

“The Foreigner” was advertised as an action thriller that’s supposed to revolve around Quan’s story, but this isn’t entirely the case. For a majority of the film’s run time, we’re simply focusing on Liam’s dilemma of obtaining more power in parliament while working with the Authentic IRA to encourage these bombings across Britain. While we do have small bits of time to learn about Quan’s tragic backstory as a refugee from China, there just isn’t enough focus on Jackie Chan’s character for the film to fully satisfy us.

To some extent, if we took out Jackie Chan’s character out of the film, “The Foreigner” could easily be told as any high end crime thriller about combating domestic terrorism. However, whenever there is action in the film, it always involves Jackie Chan offering his fast paced choreography or explosions set by him. Somehow, Jackie Chan has done more bombings than the actual domestic terrorists.

That’s another issue I have. To some degree, Jackie Chan only served as a inconvenience that’s sprinkled around Pierce Brosnan’s storyline. While the events of this narrative could have been easily resolved without him, Jackie Chan’s character did manage to incorporate as much emotional depth as he could with his character and add some exciting scenes to the overall story. However, that’s just it.

Now, I’m not saying that this is entirely a disappointing film. Jackie Chan’s action choreography presented an exciting performance to watch as always, and Pierce Brosnan offered a solid performance as the power hungry Irish politician. But there are areas within the presentation of the story that can leave an audience unsatisfied, especially if they’re expecting a movie advertised on Jackie Chan’s character. Granted, it’s evident that Jackie Chan is unfortunately becoming old. But it would be more worthwhile to have a film which ultimately focuses on him as more complex character in this generic revenge story, over just the film’s selling point defined through his choreography.     

In the parts where the film shined, they were enjoyable, but this film ultimately could have been better.