The Foreigner

  • 28 Oct - 03 Nov, 2017
  • Mohammad Kamran Jawaid
  • Reviews

When the Caucasian cast of The Foreigner repeatedly calls Jackie Chan a Chinaman, my first reaction was: aren’t they being racist? Chan plays Ngoc Minh Quan – a retired Vietnam War Special Forces officer who runs a Chinese restaurant in London, and whose past no one knows about until the middle of the film… unless one saw the trailer.

Research after the movie told me of my first mistake: The Foreigner is an adaptation of Stephen Leather’s novel The Chinaman from 1992 (In today’s context, they still sound racist). My second mistake was far greater: I sincerely hoped the movie to be good.

In the story, Quan’s daughter is swiftly killed, and like most grieving parents and with excellent combat skills, he goes out for revenge. Unlike Liam Neeson (now the grand-daddy archetype of all revenge films leads), he has no idea who planted the bomb that killed his daughter. Quan decides to pester the government – the Irish deputy minister to be precise.

Liam Hennessy (Pierce Brosnan, sporting a white hairdo and Irish accent) was once a revolutionary member of a faction of the Irish Republican Army – the IRA. He has since paid for his crimes and is now playing a bridge between the ghosts of his past, and Ireland’s future with the British.

Quan doubts his good intentions – and he doesn’t believe Liam when he tells him that he doesn’t know the names of the people who planted the bomb. Quan, in a bid to sound serious (and standing by his belief to not take no for an answer) bombs the public toilet in Liam’s building.

This is where the movie lost me. For good.

Both Jackie Chan and Pierce Brosnan are excellent in their roles. Neither actor slips to comedy at any point. The seriousness suits them fine. The screenplay by David Marconi, though, lets them down bad. Or maybe it’s the novel itself.

Again, either way, the material is lacking. At one juncture of the movie, we realise that the supporting characters are as immoral as the politicians running the show – and that includes Liam. One’s experience with the movie after this revelation dwindles down further.

Martin Campbell, the director of the movie, is quite proficient with action-dramas. His career includes 007 flicks GoldenEye (with Brosnan), Casino Royale (with Daniel Craig), the revenge thriller Edge of Darkness (with Mel Gibson), The Mask of Zorro and its sequel, and the critical and commercial bomb Green Lantern, that killed a superhero franchise.

His pacing, and the lack of depth in the story, help neither Chan, Brosnan nor the audience. We hardly sympathise with Brosnan, the IRA revolutionary cell – whose motives make them killers, however you look at them – and Chan, who is simply there to kill or knock out his pursuers.

Now don’t get me wrong, I love revenge thrillers. There is a certain charm at seeing your favourite old action star taking out bad guys. But not when the movie is as stale as this. •