More noise than signal

The Foreigner

Republished from the show notes of my other site, Fuds on Film.

We all know and love Jackie Chan, of course, the zany Kung Fool whose inventive object based fighting style and apparent willingness to murder himself with stunts for our entertainment has endeared him to all but societies’ most disturbing monsters. You’d be forgiven for forgetting it, of course, but Chan also plays serious roles now and then, and I think I remember him voicing some frustration around the time of Shinjuku Incident back in 2009 that he couldn’t get more dramatic roles. But here, a scant eight years later, comes the Martin Campbell helmed The Foreigner, adapted from a rather less politically correctly titled novel.

Here Chan plays a restaurant owner, Ngoc Minh Quan, who’s life is ruined when his daughter is killed in a bank bombing, claimed by a hitherto unheard of IRA offshoot. Distraught, he leaves his business behind and resolves to kill those responsible. A tall order for a restauranteur, perhaps, but it will come as little surprise to find that there’s more to Quan than meets the eye.

Turns out he was a US Special Forces asset, who suffered his own set of tragedies before coming to the UK for a quiet life with his daughter, which gives him a particular set of skills that will make him a nightmare for certain people. People like Pierce Brosnan’s Definitely Not Gerry Adams Liam Hennessy, Northern Irish First Minister, ex-IRA member turned politician who Quan insists must know who’s responsible, despite his protestations of innocence and ignorance.

Turns out he actually is ignorant on this count, but not wilfully so, as, at least at the start of proceedings, he doesn’t know who is responsible, and sets about shaking down the old crews for news of whodunnit, leading him into a very tangled web that points back in his own families’ direction. All the while Quan proves to be a thorn in Definitely Not Gerry Adams’ side, going from “insistent” to “heavily armed with improvised explosives, and also still insistent” that Henessey provide him with the names of those responsible, while outwitting and evading his guards from the old firms.

Meanwhile, in London the terrorist cell is setting up for another atrocity, putting a clock on all of this investigation malarky that Quan will, and I trust we’re not spoiling anything here, ultimately bring to an end in a very final and bloody fashion.

Now, when you invoke the term “genre cinema”, it’s altogether too easy for people to get a bit sniffy about it. I know, because it’s exactly what I do when people start talking about horror films in those terms. It is, however, a useful shorthand to say that if you’re not a fan of, or just not in the mood for, an action flick with some martial arts flavouring (but perhaps surprisingly lightly flavoured, give the lead actor), then perhaps it’s best to let this one pass you by. Chan’s certainly capable enough of hitting the emotional notes required, and the plot’s strong enough to hang a revenge fantasy on, but let’s just say you’re probably not going to want to go into this expecting a character piece or a in-depth explanation of post-Good Friday political dynamics.

No, it’s unashamedly an action film, and one that feels more like it escaped from the late eighties or early nineties when they were still doing these things properly, and not making Fast and Furious films. The Foreigner has a number of, by today’s standards, pretty brutal action sequences, and Martin Campbell has the experience to keep things moving along crisply and efficiently.

The only thing that struck me as odd when watching this was that we’re now, apparently, far enough removed from the mainland IRA bombing campaigns to use them as background for mid-budget, B-schedule action thrillers, but I suppose this film would be a very different beast were it set on Val Verde, and there’s any number of equally damaging events worldwide that saw adaptation/exploitation sooner, but somehow this feels a little different, perhaps just with the background of the current political difficulties in Northern Ireland.

This is a solid little action film, and for genre fans, earns a pretty easy recommendation. If that’s not your bag, sail on through, but for us hankering after a little throwback action, it’s well worth dropping into your Netflix queue.