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Paul Asay

Movie Review

Parents should never have to bury a child. Quan Ngoc Minh buried three.

The first two died years ago in perhaps the worst way imaginable: Quan tried to rescue them, but the bad guys carried them away. He still lights a candle by their pictures every night.

For years, Quan raised his third daughter, Fan, by himself in the heart of London. They lived above the small Chinese restaurant he’s owned for decades. He poured all his hope and energy into Fan—his springtime flower growing in the autumn of his life.

Then the bomb blew. And his flower was gone.

A splinter group of the Irish Republican Army takes credit for the blast, rekindling long dormant fears across Britain. The IRA’s old guard, led by the radical rabble-rouser turned respectable politician Liam Hennessy, claims ignorance.

But Quan, alone and grieving, isn’t so sure. And as Scotland Yard struggles to make headway, Quan decides he can’t wait for closure. This 62-year-old restaurant owner is driven to find the man, or men, who killed his daughter.

And when he finds them, he’ll make them pay.

Positive Elements

Quan’s love for his daughter, and his grief at her death, doesn’t manifest itself in exactly the healthiest of ways. But the motives behind his actions are understandable. He wants justice, as we all would. To his credit, he initially pursues that justice through normal, less violent channels. Quan hounds the police for information until they tell him to stop. He meets with Liam to try to find out who’s responsible. He’s unfailingly courteous even as he presses for information.

Eventually, though, Quan stops asking for answers and starts demanding them, and in some pretty violent ways. But even then, he’d rather not kill anyone. That’s got to be worth a little something, right?

Quan’s not the only guy who’d like to bring these terrorists to justice. Commander Richard Bromley pursues the killers and works back-channel deals to try to close the case, helped by some dedicated (and often nameless) lawmen who risk their own lives to save others. And while Liam has plenty of faults, he, too, would like to stop the killing, believing that living at relative peace with the Brits is the best way to help the Irish.

But in a way, the most admirable character here just might be a woman who works with Quan and does her best to save Quan from his own vengeful impulses as she tries (unsuccessfully) to coax him into getting a little professional help. It doesn’t work, but it sure is a nice thought.

Spiritual Elements

The terrorist attacks we see in The Foreigner are rooted in the age-old clash between Irish Catholics and English Protestants in the British principality of Northern Ireland. We hear references to both in passing, and we see an occasional cross hanging from a wall. We also see someone with a tattoo of a cross on his back.

Ironically, none of the major players we see seem particularly religious—other than, perhaps, Quan himself. He sits in front of a makeshift shrine with pictures of his wife (who’s also dead) and daughters, candles flickering in front of the photos.

Sexual Content

A female terrorist seduces a journalist in an effort to further a bombing plot. We see them in his apartment in bed. They kiss and joke about his inability to last very long. She gets out of bed, topless, though her back faces the camera, obscuring anything that would qualify as explicit nudity. Shortly thereafter, they have sex again. The terrorist, Maggie, hates the physical intimacy with him, though: When a compatriot ribs her about the experience, Maggie snaps that next time, they can perhaps “set up a gay magistrate” for him, before announcing she’s going to take a shower.

Liam is having an affair with a woman. We see the two in bed together, apparently naked (though both are mostly covered by sheets). They smooch both there and, later, in a nice restaurant.

[Spoiler Warning] Another sex scene—this one incestuous— between two other characters involves clothes being removed (though, again, without nudity) as well as explicit movements and sounds.

Violent Content

A bomb rips through downtown London, killing 12 and wounding 38 others. We see many of the dead and wounded, covered in blood. Quan is caught in the blast, too, and his face is pierced by dozens of pieces of glass. We see him hold the lifeless body of his daughter. Another bomb later goes off in a double-decker bus, killing more than a dozen people and injuring twice as many more. (We see the blast, but only hear about the aftermath.)

Quan, a former special forces agent, knows his way around explosives as well. He plants a bomb in the bathroom of Liam’s offices, rocking the building but killing no one. He rigs another in Liam’s car—a crude affair that he only crafted in order to prove to Liam that he could get to him there, too. A worried Liam takes Mary off to their mansion-like “farm,” which in turn is rocked by a series of violent but non-lethal explosions.

Quan attacks Liam’s legion of henchmen, too. Some he simply knocks or chokes out. Others step on nail-laced booby-traps (bloodily piercing their feet) or get shot in the legs with crossbow bolts or thwacked in the face with branches. When Liam discovers his dog lying lifeless in his study, he assumes that Quan killed it: Quan later professes the dog is only drugged and “sleeping.” (Indeed, we see the pooch later, alive and healthy.)

Quan doesn’t relish taking lives, but he and others do kill. Several people die in a vicious gunfight. A man is shot twice in the leg (to get him to talk), then finished off with a bullet to the head. Others die with point-blank shots to the forehead as well. Someone gets strangled to death.

This being a Jackie Chan movie, we naturally see plenty of frenetic, martial arts-flavored fights featuring fists, feet and unusual bits of weaponry as well. People fall from painful, but not fatal, heights. In flashback, Quan fights a boatful of bad guys, doing his best to save his daughters before they’re carried away. (We later hear that both of them—ages 11 and 8—were raped and murdered.)

An explosion rocks an airport. Quan is shot in the shoulder. We later see Quan shirtless—old scars covering his chest—as he cauterizes the fresh wound with a hot knife. He passes out from the pain.

Crude or Profane Language

About 25 f-words, four s-words and one use of the c-word. We also hear people say “a–,” “b–tard,” “h—,” “wanker,” and the British profanity “bloody.” God’s name is misused five times, and Jesus’ name is abused a whopping 22 times. There’s a crude reference to the male anatomy.

Drug and Alcohol Content

Characters drink beer, champagne and whiskey.

Other Negative Elements

Liam isn’t a wholly bad guy, but he sure lies a lot—to his wife, to the British and to his Irish compatriots. Quan is often disparagingly referred as a “Chinaman.”


For decades, Jackie Chan has specialized in high-energy martial arts romps, blending incredibly intricate stunt work with his knack for physical comedy. And while many of his films are rated R, he became a star in the United States mainly through light, PG-13-rated fare such as the Rush Hour movies and Shanghai Noon.

The Foreigner is not that sort of movie.

If Chan so much cracks a smile here, I don’t recall it. His character is a broken, grieving man—a living weapon well past his prime but still capable of getting in a lick or two. He goes toe-to-toe with another formerly glib action hero—Pierce Brosnan, the suavest James Bond in the franchise’s half-century history—who settles into the character of Liam Hennessy with growling menace.

This is still a Jackie Chan action movie, and Chan—despite technically being well past the age of eligibility for AARP—still throws himself into the role with abandon. But The Foreigner is a dark, grim actioner, filled with blood and bad words a-plenty. Rush Hour? Try crushed and dour.

The Foreigner is a taut diversion that wallows in excess—a bloody, profane exercise in action that undercuts its better qualities. While it might mark Chan’s return to serious action fare, I do wish he smiled more—and gave us more occasion to smile, too.

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Paul Asay

Paul Asay has been part of the Plugged In staff since 2007, watching and reviewing roughly 15 quintillion movies and television shows. He’s written for a number of other publications, too, including Time, The Washington Post and Christianity Today. The author of several books, Paul loves to find spirituality in unexpected places, including popular entertainment, and he loves all things superhero. His vices include James Bond films, Mountain Dew and terrible B-grade movies. He’s married, has two children and a neurotic dog, runs marathons on occasion and hopes to someday own his own tuxedo. Feel free to follow him on Twitter @AsayPaul.