When his daughter is killed in a terrorist attack, an old man returns to his life of violence

The Foreigner (Stage)

Jackie Chan finally gets his own Taken. Although most movies regale us with tales of children avenging their parents, recent years have shown that the reverse situation, parents avenging their children, can be just as satisfying. In Martin Campbell’s new film we don’t have to wait long to get that plot engine up and running. Almost as soon as we meet Quan Ngoc Minh (Chan), his daughter is blown up by a car bomb. A rogue cell of IRA radicals soon claims the attack. In the resulting fallout, we’re introduced to the film’s second lead: Pierce Brosnan doing his best Gerry Adams impression as fictional IRA leader Liam Hennessy.

Quan soon becomes convinced that Liam is responsible for his daughter’s death. When the British police move too slowly for his taste, he makes his way to Belfast himself to wage his own guerilla war against Liam, himself a veteran of the Troubles. Although seemingly an unassuming small business owner, Quam is an experienced veteran of special forces; he’s soon using his various skills to run rings around Liam. Their dynamic is a fascinating one, and it gives multiple meanings to the film’s title. Quan is a “foreigner” in Britain, in that he was originally born in Vietnam and emigrated in the wake of the American war there, losing most of his family to horrific violence in the process. But as an Irishman, Liam is a foreigner in Britain too. Both have been trapped in the vicious cycle of imperialist violence and tried to fight against their oppressors. They thought they could put the guns down and live a peaceful life for their family’s sake. They were wrong, and as soon as their fragile peace is disturbed, they’re both back in the thick of it, fighting and plotting and killing all over again.

The film’s major downside is that the brunt of this resurgent violence falls on female characters. Quan’s daughter is killed to kickstart the plot, and though many other characters are killed over the course of this vengeance cycle, it’s the women (especially within the IRA) that receive the most brutal punishment. The brutality is a bit hard to take, especially considering the recent news cycle.

At least Chan continues to have a great 2017. After single-handedly making The Lego Ninjago Movie watchable (he choreographed all the fight scenes and played two separate ‘wise old man’ characters), he gets another chance to put his skills on display here, kicking soldiers through windows and setting deadly traps amid forest foliage. Plus, Chan has a bit of Clint Eastwood’s Unforgiven aura about him here, with the costs of his violent life visible in the weary lines of his face. I’m not sure anyone has plans to turn this into a franchise, but I certainly want to see more from this Chan-aissance. B

The Foreigner (Stage)
  • Stage