‘I’ ON CULTURE
Jackie Chan’s new movie The Foreigner is in some ways the opposite of last week’s Blade Runner 2049. The critics are not really excited, but the audience likes it. It is a solid political revenge film, containing a lot to think about and some really good action. Unlike past Jackie Chan movies, this is not a comedy, so keep that in mind.
Ngoc Minh Quan (Chan) is the owner of a restaurant in London whose sole family is his teenage daughter. After she is killed by a terrorist bomb planted by an offshoot of the Irish Republican Army (this movie is based on a 1992 book), he is determined to get justice. But, somehow, the government seems to be going nowhere on it.
He is not willing to take no for an answer, and that is all he gets from British counter-intelligence, which clearly looks down on him. He is eventually turned over to government minister Liam Hennessy (Pierce Brosnan), who assures him that everything possible is being done, although Quan rightly feels that almost nothing is being done.
Hennessy, who really is the central character, has a rather checkered past with clear ties to people who might have been directly involved, and certainly to some who know more than they are willing to discuss. As a man involved in creating terror in the past as part of the revenge cycle that the Irish “troubles” created, he understands Quan. He sympathizes with the man. But he wants to keep a very low profile.
To add to the mix, Quan also has a past. He presents himself as a simple restaurateur, bowing and scraping. However, he grew up in Vietnam and had been trained by U.S. Special Forces. His specialties were explosives and kicking butt, and at one time he worked as a hit man. Because of his actions, he had previously lost all the women in his life except his daughter, and now she is dead.
Quan becomes convinced that Hennessy knows far more than he is letting on. Quan feels that if the man is preventing justice, then revenge will have to do. He follows Hennessy to his home in Northern Ireland, determined to get his attention. That will not be easy, as Hennessy’s angry wife (Orla Brady) and former contacts take up his time.
For a while, Quan essentially vanishes and Hennessy tries to balance out demands, particularly from some of his old comrades whom he has sold out. He does not want to alienate the old men who, like him, are working to adjust to the new times.
In what might be a metaphor for Vietnam, Quan hides out in the woods and sets up booby traps and bombs, constantly watching Hennessy. As expected, the bad guys go after Quan. There are some good set piece scenes of violence, and the movie ends essentially the way you think it will.
Chan is no longer the young, vital fighter. He has aged, and the fight scenes show it. They are still effective, but lack the fluidity and chemistry that we saw decades ago. He does more acting, although the rudimentary English of his character, as well as the nature of the man, create real limits.
Brosnan provides most of the major acting chops, particularly in a late scene where he gets together with the old ex-IRA men, all of whom understand both the bombers and Quan’s motivation. His scenes with his wife, who has lost respect for him because of his willingness to cooperate with the British, provide a sad grace note to his emotional life. He is a man out of his time; formerly a fighter, now trying to keep the peace.
This is a tough little movie, one that will hold your attention all the way. But it is also a useful metaphor for our times. We know the horrors of war and seem to not be able to work out a viable peace. You need full cooperation for a real peace, and that seldom comes.
The Foreigner is a good film, although you should be warned about the language and the violence, including a difficult torture scene. This is not for kids. But it is a really good example of the revenge thriller. If you like that type of film, this one is for you.