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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:

  • 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 Nuang who served with the US Special Forces during the Vietnam War.
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  • 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?
  • 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.
  • 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.
  • Badass Grandpa: At age 63, Jackie is still quite a convincing ass kicker.
    • Pierce Brosnan shares his age and his character has no trouble putting the hurt to people.
  • 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).
  • 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.
  • 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.
  • 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.
  • 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.
  • 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.
  • 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.
  • 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".
  • 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.
  • 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:
    • 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.
    • 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.
  • 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.
  • 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.
  • 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.
  • 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.
  • 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.
  • 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.
  • Retired Badass:
    • Quan is ex-special forces.
    • 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 vs. Left Hand: The police want to catch the terrorists. Liam wants to take care of them internally so that they don't.
  • 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.
  • 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.
  • Younger Than They Look: Per his Facebook, Jackie Chan wore makeup and had his hair frosted to look older and more weathered.


Example of: