Wednesday, January 3, 2018

It Came From The Cineplex: The Foreigner

As regular readers of my blog may have noticed, I am woefully behind on my movie reviews for 2017. That's why I've decided to do some short mini-reviews of films I have nothing of note to discuss, in a valiant effort to catch up. How's that for a sentence!

The Foreigner was written by David Marconi, and directed by Martin Campbell.

Marconi invented the radio is a mediocre screenwriter, who previously penned The Harvest, Enemy Of The State, Live Free Or Die Hard, Collision, The Dark Side Of The Moon and The Contract. Yikes! He also wrote several episodes of the G.I. Joe animated series in the 1980s.

Campbell is a very uneven director, who previously helmed No Escape, Goldeneye, The Mask Of Zorro, Vertical Limit, Beyond Borders, The Legend Of Zorro, Casino Royale, Edge Of Darkness and Green Lantern (!).

The Foreigner is based on the novel The Chinaman by Stephen Leather. Gosh, I wonder what made them change that title here in the hyper-sensitive, easily outraged hellscape of 2017?

Take equal parts Death Wish, Taken, add a liberal amount of pretty much any Jackie Chan action movie and you'll have a pretty good idea of what The Foreigner's about. It's not a terrible film, but it's as unoriginal as possible and there's absolutely nothing new to see here.

Jackie Chan made a career out of playing virtually the same goofy martial arts-expert character in dozens of films over the years. The Foreigner is his most serious role yet, as he plays a man driven to exact vengeance on the terrorists who inadvertently kill his daughter. 

Chan turns in a good performance here as a grieving father bent on vengeance, but it's in service of a by-the-numbers revenge film that we've all seen a thousand times before. I'm assuming we'll see more of these types of roles as Chan gets older, and finds it harder and harder to fight off bad guys while wackily swinging around a ladder.

Oddly enough the bad guys in the film are all IRA terrorists (?). Using them as villains likely made perfect sense back in 1992 when the source novel was written, but it's a bit odd here in 2017. Especially since the IRA began disbanding around 2005, preferring to work within the system instead. This of course requires the film to do some emergency revisionism, trotting out an "Authentic IRA" who want to return to the old violent ways. Yeah, it's probably not a good idea to dredge up "The Troubles" just for a dopey action movie.

Unfortunately The Foreigner was a flop here in the States, where it only managed to gross $34 million against its $35 million budget. Predictably it did better overseas, where it made $106 million, for a worldwide total of $140 million. That makes it a slight hit at best.


The Plot:

Ngoc Minh Quan (played by Jackie Chan) is a former Vietnamese soldier who now runs a Chinese restaurant in London. When his beloved teenaged daughter Fan is killed in a terrorist bombing, Quan is inconsolable. He eventually finds out the bombing was carried out by a group of Irish terrorists calling themselves the Authentic IRA.

Quan visits Irish Deputy Minister Liam Hennessy (played by Pierce Brosnan), a former member of the IRA who now works within the government for change. Hennessy denounces the attacks, and when Quan asks him for the names of the terrorists, he says he has no idea who they are.

Quan doesn't believe Hennessy, and sets off a homemade bomb in his office (!), telling him there's more where that one came from unless he hands over the names. Hennessy of course knows who the terrorists are, as he's secretly a member of the group. He's outraged though that his fellow terrorists targeted innocent citizens instead of empty buildings. Um... isn't that sort of what terrorists do? Kill innocents to prove a point?

Quan's attacks escalate, until Hennessy retreats to his country home. Quan simply follows and starts bombing him there as well. Wait, which one's the villain again? 

To make a long movie short, Quan eventually gets the list of terrorist names. He then infiltrates the terrorists' hideout and kills them all in the most anticlimactic way possible. He also discovers that Hennessy is having an affair with a woman named Maggie. He then confronts Hennessy and shows him a photo of him with his mistress, forcing him to post it to the internet, which ruins him politically.

Luckily for Quan, the police, who've been aware of his actions all along, decide not to press charges against him for some reason. Quan returns to his restaurant and tries to rebuild his life.

• I don't have much to say about this film, so this'll be quick. 

• All through the film, the characters constantly describe Quan as being in his early sixties. How the hell do they know that? At the risk of sounding racist, it's a fact that Asians tend to age more gracefully than the rest of us. Looking at Quan, he could easily be anywhere from sixty five to eighty.

• Speaking of age... I know this is an action movie and all, but it's a bit hard to believe a man in his sixties could outrun or fight off a squad of goons decades younger than him. Even if he is Jackie Chan.

• I'm probably gonna raked over the coals for even daring to ask this, but whatever. These days the general public loses their collective minds whenever a movie "whitewashes" a character by casting a Caucasian actor in an ethnic role. See 2017's Ghost In The Shell for a prime example.

In The Foreigner, H
ong Kong-born Chinese actor Jackie Chan plays a Vietnamese man. Oddly enough I didn't hear one peep of protest about that. Does this not count because the actor and character are both Asians? Do the SJWs in the audience see this, shrug and say, "Eh, close enough?"

What do Vietnamese people think about this? Are they offended by a Chinese man being cast as one of their own, or do they simply have better things to worry about?

• As I said earlier, the movie's based on the novel The Chinaman. The producers changed the name of the film to the blander and safer The Foreigner, for obvious reasons. Oddly enough though, the characters in the film constantly refer to Chan's character as the "Chinaman." 

So... is it an offensive term or not, movie?

• Typically in these types of films, the hero rights a grievous wrong by bringing the perpetrator of a heinous crime to justice. Of course he does this by breaking twenty or thirty laws himself, but... eh. Eggs and omelettes, right?

Quan goes above and beyond here, as he repeatedly bombs Hennessy's properties until he gives him the names of the terrorists who killed his daughter. In fact Quan is far more destructive and kills many more people than the IRA ever did. Yet somehow he's still considered a hero.

• In most action movies, it's almost as if the police don't exist in the world of the film, as the hero is free to murder, car chase and explode his way a major city without any pesky interference or consequences from the law.

Kudos to The Foreigner I guess, for giving us a revenge film in which the police are aware of the hero and his actions. In fact at the end of the movie, 
a helpful police captain says Quan actually did them a favor (!) and declines to press any charges. That seems... unlikely

• Quan eventually finds out that an IRA terrorist named O'Reilly was the one responsible for detonating the bomb that killed his daughter. Quan then infiltrates the terrorists' hideout, and I was sure there'd be an epic and prolonged battle between the two. Maybe even a one liner as Quan snapped the guy's neck or threw him off a tall building. 

Nope! Quan simply enters their apartment and shoots them all in the most offhand way possible. Heck, he doesn't even save O'Reilly for last, as he kills him second! How odd and anticlimactic.

• That's it! That's all I got!

The Foreigner marks a new direction in Jackie Chan's career, as he begins his "serious actor" phase (much like Arnold Schwarzenegger's been trying to do that past few years). He turns in a compelling performance, but it's not enough to elevate the derivative, by-the-numbers revenge plot we've all seen a thousand times before. I give it a C+.

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