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Film / The Foreigner (2017)

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Quan: Mr Hennessy, please find out the names of the bombers.
Hennesy: I work for the government, not terrorists.
Quan: You used to work for them.
Hennesy: I don't know who the bombers are.
Quan: I don't believe you.

The Foreigner is an 2017 British-Chinese action thriller movie directed by Martin Campbell starring Jackie Chan in his first film to receive a wide Western release since The Karate Kid (2010). This is based on the novel The Chinaman, written by Stephen Leather, which was written in 1992.

Ngoc Minh Quan (Chan), a Chinese restaurant owner and businessman, lives in London with his daughter (Katie Leung) leading a humble, peaceful life with her. But after she is suddenly killed in a bombing by Irish terrorists, a broken, vengeful Quan goes on the warpath to discover the terrorists' identities and make them pay for their crimes, which brings him into conflict with British government official Liam Hennessy (Pierce Brosnan).

You can find the first trailer here and second trailer here. Not to be confused with Steven Seagal's 2003 film of the same name or the 1984 stage play also called The Foreigner.

The Foreigner contains examples of:

  • Accidental Hero: Downplayed; while Quan taking out the five terrorists who killed his daughter nearly mucked up the special ops plan, it prevented the Ops team from taking any casualties as well, and he made sure to evacuate the landlady's dog. Bromley even notes as such and drops the charges against Quan. The hitch is that if he hadn't left Maggie alive, the plane would have blown up.
  • Action Dad: But unlike Taken, the child is killed before the dad's skills are used.
  • Adaptational Alternate Ending: The movie is fairly faithful to the novel overall, but despite its grim tone it considerably lightens the book's ending. Namely, in the novel, Quan's character dies before he gets his revenge and the terrorists actually succeed in bringing down the passenger jet, which motivates the government to assassinate various IRA figures including Hennessy and Sean.
  • Adaptational Nationality: In the novel, the titular "China Man," Nguyen Ngoc Minh, is actually Vietnamese who gets mistaken for Chinese and has served with the Viet Cong before defecting to the US side. In the movie, Jackie's character, Ngoc Minh Quan, is Chinese Nùng who served with the US Special Forces during the Vietnam War.
  • Analogy Backfire: Quan makes a metaphor about how politics and terrorism are both ends of a snake, and how regardless of which end you grab, it's still a snake. Hennessy makes no effort to refute this and counters by telling him that one end of the snake bites.
  • Anti-Hero: Quan has little care for the law.
  • Armour-Piercing Question: Hennessy gets one from his wife Mary.
    Mary: What is going on?
    Hennesy: He thinks I know who blew up his daughter!
    Mary: Do you?
  • Arrested for Heroism: Quan starts a Roaring Rampage of Revenge, which Liam keeps quiet (for reasons). While the Irish people are never notified, the British cops put out a warrant for his arrest, though Bromley later drops the charges.
  • Artistic License – History: The film, based on a novel written in 1992 but is set in the late 2010's, treat the IRA as a credible threat akin to the days of The Troubles. In reality Sinn Fein has abandoned its armed struggle since 1998 and entered politics, and most of the fringe IRA groups today never engaged in the large scale bombings as depicted by the film. For that reason several reviewers did not find the IRA to be credible villains.
  • Asshole Victim: The rogue IRA and Maggie who caught a stray-bullet, tortured by the police and then executed as a loose end. Considering that she's the one responsible for bombing civilians which sets the plot in motion.
    • McGrath also counts. Hardly anyone felt bad when he was double kneecapped, pistol whipped and eventually shot in the head by Hennessy.
  • Awful Wedded Life: Liam and Mary Hennessy can't stand each other and apparently haven't been able to for years. For good reason: Mary is angry at Liam for not having her IRA brother's murderers killed. Mary is eventually assassinated on Liam's orders after he finds out she betrayed him in multiple ways.
  • Badass Boast: Duelling ones from Hennessy and Quan.
    Hennesy: You have no idea who you're dealing with!
    Quan: Yes, I do. Do you?
  • Badass Bystander: A random, unnamed cop grabs the last bomb and sprints through an airport carrying it, knowing it's about to go off, throwing it down a jetbridge just in time. Badass.
  • Band of Brothers: Quan is surprised that Sean is Catholic but served in the British military. Sean answers that he didn't fight for the British, he fought for his regiment, regardless of religion.
  • Big Bad Ensemble: The film doesn't have a dedicated central antagonist; the bombers are largely characterized as having the same level of authority, Hennessy set the plan in motion but didn't intend for people to die, and Mary acts on a combination of Let No Crisis Go to Waste and being a Manipulative Bastard. By the trope's definition as the one who instigates the plot, however, there's Hugh. Though it wasn't his plan, he's the one that contributed the explosives, he organizes the bombers, and he was the one who took the plan off track to suit his own agenda (thus making an enemy of Quan).
  • Bittersweet Ending: Quan avenges his daughter Fan by taking out the Authentic IRA cell responsible for her death, and the police are able to stop the bomb plot. A remorseful Hennessy is forced by Quan to publicly reveal his association with the Authentic IRA, effectively killing his political career. But Quan's daughter is still dead, and his role in the events has attracted the attention of Scotland Yard who place him under surveillance. The film ends with Quan returning to his restaurant and reuniting with Lam.
  • Black-and-Grey Morality: The villains are a group of bombers targeting civilians. Quan, Hennessy and the British police all do their utmost to bring them to justice, but do so using brutal methods.
  • Bloodier and Gorier: Than the vast majority of films Chan has acted in.
  • Co-Dragons: Hennessy has two main 2nd in commands. Sean, his main agent in the field and the one who's sent out to do his wet-work operations. Jim, his main enforcer within his local forces and his right hand. At different points in the film both are sent after Quan directly and tend to give him more of a fight than the other mooks.
  • Culture Clash: Quan offers twenty thousand pounds in cash to what appears to be a high-ranking police officer for the names of the bombers, only to be told "That's not how we do things here."
  • Darker and Edgier: This may just be one of the grimmest pictures of Chan's career. Bleak colors, brutal violence, and not a single joke or silly facial expression to be seen.
  • Dark and Troubled Past: Quan and Hennessy (Brosnan) both seem to have these.
  • Elites Are More Glamorous: Quan is a former special forces soldier trained by the Americans who served in Vietnam. Liam's nephew Sean is former British Special Forces and served in Iraq.
  • Even Evil Has Standards: While Hennessy was the one who ordered the bombings, he is still disgusted that his men ignored his orders not to get civilians killed. He also lets Sean go despite learning his nephew was having an affair with his wife.
  • Everyone Has Standards: A big reason that Quan stays an Anti-Hero rather than a full on Villain Protagonist.
    • When harassing Hennessy Quan makes a point to pull his punches and takes his men down non-lethally. Sometimes they end up maimed, but they're explicitly said to have survived.
    • When he infiltrates Hennessy's house Henessey finds his dog on the floor and accuses Quan of killing him. Quan says he's only "sleeping" (drugged or knocked unconscious) and sure enough the dog is up and fine in the next scene. In the novel the movie was based on, he did kill the dog.
  • From Camouflage to Criminal: Hennessy’s nephew Sean is a former Irish Ranger and Special Forces soldier who served two tours in Iraq. Now he’s an operative for the IRA.
  • Greeting Gesture Confusion: When Quan and Hennessy first meet, the former goes for a bow and the latter a handshake.
  • The Film of the Book: The film is based on a novel called The Chinaman by author Stephen Leather.
  • Good Is Not Soft:
    • Quan's cause is just, but his methods involve bombing, maiming, and blackmailing those he believes responsible.
    • The British police officers who arrest Maggie torture her for information on her group's latest bomb plot, and then execute her in cold blood.
  • Hidden Depths: Given the size of Quan's restaurant and how it's running smoothly despite his Heroic BSoD, he must be a really good cook, manager, or both. When he returns at the end of the movie, he even makes a motion to start cooking.
  • Honey Pot:
    • Hennessy's mistress Maggie turns out to be one of the bombers, planted to discredit him. She also seduces a reporter in order to plant the final bomb in his laptop.
    • Hennessy's own wife Mary is this to Sean, seducing and tricking him into revealing Hennessy's plans to root out the rogue IRA cell so she can tip them off.
  • Jack Bauer Interrogation Technique: The police use this to extract the bomb's location from Maggie.
    • Also Hennessy's rather brutal interrogation of McGrath to get the names and locations of the bombers.
  • Just One Man: Hennessy explicitly rants about this the first time Quan beats up, then escapes from, a group of four men. As the movie progresses, Hennessy gradually gets used to it.
  • Karmic Death:
    • The IRA cell has been killing civilians relying on the performance security of malls or buses. They get killed when a supposed repairman opens fire in the safety of their apartment, and painfully at that. Special points to Maggie who is barely alive, then tortured by the special ops team until she gives up information and unceremoniously executed.
    • Mary betrays Liam because she wanted him to order her brother's murderers executed before trial. She is fine with letting innocents die to get revenge. Sean executes her before she can be investigated for her role in the bombings.
  • Killer Cop: The police have no more respect for the rules than Quan does. When they capture the last surviving terrorist, they torture her to find out where the bomb went, then execute her on the spot.
  • Lack of Empathy: Maggie is remorseless about setting bombs that hurt innocents, and seducing Liam as insurance. She mainly complains that the men she has to seduce are gross.
  • Lawful Stupid: Why Quan eventually takes the law into his hands; the local cop is sympathetic but tells him coming every day, begging for answers, is wasting their resources and he's not being useful to anyone. The man needs a therapist and more than sympathy. Averted in the climax, where the law is really good at getting terrorists.
  • Mirror Character: Both Quan and Hennessy have much in common. Both were fighters in a past war that resulted in the deaths of many of their loved ones, resulting in them doing whatever they can to keep their remaining family safe. Liam says as much when trying to talk him down.
  • Mistaken Nationality: Everyone believes Quan is Chinese - he's South Vietnamese, of an ethnic Chinese minority group, but it doesn't stop people from referring to him as "the Chinaman".
  • Mugging the Monster: The IRA cell thought they were taking out ordinary civilians. Unfortunately, they angered the wrong dad.
  • Mundane Solution: Hennessy tries many methods to neutralize Quan, finally bringing in his nephew Sean to try and defeat him. In case Sean fails in his effort, Hennessy gives Sean some backup orders: just give Quan the information he's been asking for in the hopes it will make him go away. It works.
  • Nerves of Steel: The British PM learns she was a target for a terrorist plot and nearly died on a plane. Her response is to calmly call Liam and coerce him to work for London exclusively, while getting all the information about her would-be killers.
  • Never Hurt an Innocent: Unlike the rogue IRA cell, Quan does what he can to only hurt actual criminals and knock out Liam's mooks. Where dogs are involved, he'll either quietly move them or knock them out with sedatives.
  • No Celebrities Were Harmed: Liam Hennessy appears to be based on two real life Irish politicians; his looks are based on Sinn Féin leader Gerry Adams, and his position as Deputy First Minister of Northern Ireland is based on the late Deputy First Minister Martin McGuinness. Like Hennessy, both Adams and McGuinness have links to the IRA.
  • "Not So Different" Remark: Though Quan argues against Hennessy's comparison, he does feel a similar connection to Sean when they fight. Sean gives him one of the hardest matches in the film and the names of the bombers, and after that he and Quan have a calm chat. Quan subtly notes the similarities between them, Sean was a soldier in Iraq serving with the British whilst he himself was Irish, much like how Quan was Vietnamese serving the Americans.
  • Not Blood Siblings: Sean is having an affair with his aunt Mary, his uncle Liam's wife.
  • Offscreen Moment of Awesome: When the police begin to interrogate Maggie, she is absolutely defiant in giving them any information, going so far as to state that there's only "9 minutes left" (before the bomb went off). Cue the interrogator walking in with a car battery and a pair of clamps, which then cuts directly to a scene of him calling his superiors about the location of the bomb. Considering that the police were able to organize a search and isolate the bomb, the interrogator must have been able to extract the information within 5-6 minutes.
  • Older Hero vs. Younger Villain: The 60-year old Quan vs the Authentic IRA cell that is made up of terrorists in their 20's and 30's.
  • Only Sane Man: Lam, Quan's friend and his restaurant manager, is this. She checks on him, feeds him soup, and puts him on Suicide Watch when fearing for his life.
  • One-Steve Limit: Averted. Sean is the name of Hennessy's Dragon, and also one of his men. This is Ireland, of course, so the aversion is justified.
  • Outliving One's Offspring: Quan's backstory: he and his family were refugees. Pirates kidnapped his preteen daughters and murdered them. Then his wife died having Fan, his last daughter. After Fan dies, Quan snaps because she was his only family.
  • Pet the Dog:
    • When Quan infiltrates Hennessy's farm the first time he assaults and knocks out 2 guards. He makes a point to check their pulses afterwards, and when he leaves them tied up he keeps them out of range of the bomb he sets. Later, he does the same with Sean and only takes his gun.
    • Liam finds out his nephew was having an affair with his wife. He has a sincere talk with him, acknowledging she was using them both. After giving him an order to kill Mary, he tells Sean to return to New York.
  • Pinball Protagonist:
    • Other than kicking ass, Quan doesn't really do much to impact the plot. Hennessy was already investigating the bombing before Quan got involved. Hennessy got the list of the bombers and sent it to the UK government before Quan even got the list himself. And the London police were already about to interrogate and/or kill the bombers when Quan snuck in and did it himself. Quan didn't even find out anything about the laptop bomb. Arguably the only thing Quan did that impacted the plot was taking pictures of Hennessy and his mistress and getting them posted online. But any consequences of that would be after the movie ends.
    • Quan's actions had one actual direct effect. By worrying Hennessy into putting surveillance on his own wife, Hennessy ends up discovering her affair with Sean. Without this information, it's probable that Hennessy would have assumed that Sean himself leaked the plan to the bombers instead of putting together that Mary was responsible for doing so. This isn't something that Quan intended to do, and in fact he never finds out about it.
  • Police Are Useless: Justified. In the beginning, Quan comes every day to the station to beg for information about the people who killed his daughter. The cop is sympathetic but tells him there's no point, he can't be bribed for information, and it's a waste of resources that could be spent finding the crooks. Quan will get updates with the rest of London.
  • Post-Coital Collapse: We hear a a grunt as a man collapses into bed, sweaty and panting quickly followed by his lover Maggie. While he goes to the bathroom to clean up, she quickly searches his room, revealing she is actually a terrorist that seduced him for being a journalist that had info she needed to further a bombing plot.
  • Punch-Clock Villain: Sean isn't evil at all, but he's doing wetwork for Hennessy.
  • Reasonable Authority Figure: Bromley is sympathetic to Quan's situation, and when he discovers that Quan is the one responsible for killing most of the IRA terrorists, he decides not to arrest him. As he puts it, Quan saved a special ops team from engaging in a bloodbath.
  • Refugee from Time: In the original novel, the equivalent character to Quan's daughter Fan was a twentysomething student in the early 1990s when the novel was set (which made sense, as she was a small child when the family escaped Vietnam following the end of the war there). The film adaptation moved the main action of the novel forward 20 or 25 years to be set in roughly 2017, but kept Fan's backstory the same - yet she's still a twentysomething student in the film, rather than being in her mid-forties as one might expect.
  • Renegade Splinter Faction: The Authentic IRA is a faction of the real-life IRA.
  • Retired Badass:
    • Quan is ex-special forces that retired to be a restaurant owner... until his daughter is killed in a terrorist attack.
    • Liam is an IRA leader who went (mostly) legit, and still knows how to run an op and extract information via a bullet to the leg.
    • Sean served in the Royal Irish Regiment, and is still a veteran tracker who can give Quan a run for his money.
  • Right for the Wrong Reasons: At the end, Quan assumes that because he identified one of the bombers as Hennessy's mistress, he must have been behind the whole thing. As it turns out, Hennessy was the one who planned to use bombings to leverage pardons for his fellow IRA members out of the British government, he just never intended for them to target innocents or do any real damage. But even so, he had no idea who any of the bombers were (he doesn't even suspect the guy he trusted with carrying out the original plan), and his mistress got with him solely so that the extremists would be able to blackmail him if he turned on them.
  • Right Hand Versus Left Hand: The police want to catch the terrorists. Liam wants to take care of them internally so that they don't.
  • Sequel Hook: Quan goes back to his restaurant life, with Bromley promising to keep an eye on him but letting him go. Meanwhile, Sean returns to New York.
  • Shoot the Dog: Liam tells Sean to go back to New York, no hard feelings, and stay there as Liam handles the fallout. Given the way he's handling the pistol, Sean is getting off easy for sleeping with Mary.
  • Speed Sex: Maggie mocks her journalist lover for being a "three second wonder".
  • Stealth Hi/Bye: Quan tells Lam that he decided to give her his restaurant. Lam tells him that she will stay with him tonight and sleep on the couch. When she turns around, Quan has suddenly disappeared.
  • Stupid Evil: Liam. When Quan sets a bomb in his office, he lies to the police inspector about who the suspect may be so that his men can handle the man quietly. The sensible thing would have been giving Quan's ID to the police and letting him get arrested. Ironically, the actual British police find Quan quickly in the ending.
  • Suicide Watch: Lam goes Oh, Crap! when Quan gives her the paperwork that deems her owner of the restaurant. She says she's staying the night with him because no way is her boss going to do something stupid. Quan runs out, but Lam finds him. He reassures her that he's not going to kill himself before driving off.
  • There Are No Therapists: The cops don't think to give Quan or the journalist Ian Wood therapy for seeing a bombing up close. Neither does the NHS. Lam does, saying she wants to help Quan through his grief, but he leaves before she can do as much as schedule an appointment.
  • Toplessness from the Back: Maggie's bare back in seen when she gets out of bed, before she quickly throws a shirt on.
  • Torture Always Works: Multiple times throughout the film, even when it shouldn't. Even at the end, when the last surviving bomber knows that all she has to do is lie or wait a few minutes for the bomb to go off, she gives the correct information just in time for the cops to prevent casualties.
  • Tranquil Fury: Quan spends most of the movie in this state.
  • Two Decades Behind:
    • A Zig-Zagging Trope. The film is set in 2017, yet Irish terrorists blowing up British streets haven't been an issue for over 20 years due to the peace accords signed in 1998 and the IRA disarming in 2005. The main reason is due to the fact that the novel the film is adapting, The Chinaman, was originally published in 1992 when the Provisional IRA's bombing campaign was in full swing. Yet at the same time, the UK is facing massive security threats from Islamic terrorists, both foreign infiltrators and homegrown jihadists. At the time of the movie's release in October 2017, the UK had already suffered almost half a dozen major terrorist attacks that same year, including a bombing at an Ariana Grande concert in Manchester that killed 22. The odd conclusion is that while the movie's politics and perpetrators are out of place, the overall plot is very current and applicable.
    • Lampshaded in the movie: When the news reporters learn of the attack their editor immediately rattles off a list of Middle Eastern terrorist groups to look for rather than any IRA splinter.
  • War Crime Subverts Heroism: While there is not quite a full-blown war, the film unflinchingly portrays morality ranging from grey to black on all three sides: The Protagonist, and the two sides he is caught in the middle of. The trope example comes in when, to save lives, government forces torture a terrorist off-screen, and then—after getting the information they need—summarily execute that terrorist on screen.
  • Well-Intentioned Extremist: Hennessy originally ordered the bombing in order to scare the British government into pardoning several ex-IRA members. He also had specific orders that innocents not be hurt.
  • Western Terrorists: The terrorists are Irish, specifically IRA extremists.
  • Would Not Hit a Girl: Quan spares Maggie in the final showdown. Though given that she was hit by a stray bullet earlier, it's possible he thought she was dead.
  • You Killed My Father: Well, Quan's daughter. This drives the plot and is his entire motivation.