Starring Jackie Chan. Rated 14A
Over the years, we’ve seen martial-arts master Jackie Chan thrown into ever more incongruous genres, but The Foreigner might present the most unlikely context of all: getting caught up in the infighting of the IRA. Or, to be more precise, the fighting between former IRA members and a new, bomb-happy group dubbing itself “the Authentic IRA”.
Ostensibly, this London- and Belfast-set tale is updating a pre-ceasefire book by Stephen Leather, but the idea feels almost as dated as the novel’s cringe-inducing title: The Chinaman.
Chan’s bereaved father—his only daughter is a victim of one of the IRA splinter group’s explosives—is called that pejorative term many times in the movie, usually with a “fuckin’ ” in front of it, by the Northern Irish whose asses he’s kicking. “An Asian man in his 60s with a grudge” is how Pierce Brosnan’s British deputy minister Liam Hennessy dismisses him early on—before the humble Chinese-restaurant owner blows the hell out of the bureaucrat’s office bathroom using only groceries in a lunch bag.
But The Foreigner muddles its story, unsure whose tale it wants to tell, eventually weighing heavily in favour of the complex political war Hennessy, a former IRA operative himself, is trying to manipulate. Brosnan has some fun moments returning to his Irish roots, looking strikingly like Sinn Fein’s Gerry Adams with his salt-and-pepper beard and specs. He’s deeply conflicted—a man who’s betrayed his street-fighter past, his marriage, and most of his government allies. Chan’s militia-trained Quan is convinced that he has to track down the shady Hennessy and terrorize him into finding the truth.
Brosnan is given much more to work with, alas, than Chan, though it’s fascinating to watch the kung-fu master lose the comedy and embrace his age. Still, we get only flashes of an over-the-top back story, and Quan becomes almost an afterthought by the end—not much more than an automaton bent on Rambo-like revenge, wielding explosives instead of his famous fists of fury.
It all descends into by-the-numbers vigilante territory. But there is still some subversive satisfaction in watching a “foreigner” rip homegrown terrorists a new one.