The Foreigner (2017): Taut and Entertaining Version of “The Chinaman” (Trailer)

The Foreigner (2017): Taut and Entertaining Version of "The Chinaman"

The Foreigner, directed by Martin Campbell from a screenplay by David Marconi, is the big screen version of Stephen Leather’s taut and very entertaining novel “The Chinaman.” Jackie Chan plays the lead character and he faces up against Pierce Brosnan and a group of “new” IRA members who are hell bent on starting up the old campaign of terror anew.

Fans of Leather’s work will no doubt notice a few changes, with the title change being the first as well as the character’s nationality change, but this does not affect the story at all.  Overall, the tale’s message is the same and it is very easy to get caught up in Quan Ngoc Minh’s personal vendetta against those responsible for his daughter’s death.

The Foreigner is all about Minh’s search for justice after his daughter is killed by a bomb blast in a small clothes shop.(In the book it is Minh’s daughter and wife who die.) Minh visits the police everyday in order to get the names of those responsible. He even offers to pay for the names but the police, despite not operating that way, do not know who is in this new IRA cell.

Brosnan is Liam Hennessy, an Irish deputy minister with a few too many irons in the fire, who offers to help the British government find the new cell and stop them. He also has a lot more going on than is immediately evident. Minh goes to meet with Hennessy and soon the two men are locked in battle.

The Foreigner, like “The Chinaman” offers a main character who is much more than he appears. Minh may well be the owner of a Chinese takeaway/restaurant but he is the sum of his past experiences. These turn out to be all too deadly as Hennessy soon learns to his chagrin.

The pacing is spot on, like the novel it is based upon, and it feels like a splendid throwback to gritty films like the 1980 Bob Hoskins Helen Mirren gangster movie The Long Good Friday(A film that features a very young Pierce Brosnan as a young IRA assassin and one that also deals with bombings.) It has a touch of “Who Dares Wins” to it and features solid performances from all the players.

Campbell manages to keep things moving at a cracking pace and Chan proves that he is adept outside the action/comedy roles that have made him an icon in the industry. The film looks brilliant with everything meshing together perfectly.

The locations, the film is mainly set in London, are spot on and all lack the glamorous appearance of the capital city in films like “The Kingsman 1 and 2.” The action in The Foreigner steadily increases and while the timeline has been “moved up” to fit the present, the tale loses nothing in this shift.

Anyone who has read the book will find that the film delivers Leather’s story well and one has no problem getting behind Minh in his quest for vengeance and his own personal closure.

This is a full five star film that has been, somewhat strangely, given a limited release. (In the cinema where we viewed it The Foreigner was showing in only one theater cubicle.) There is some cursing (the worst being the “C” word), a tiny amount of vague nudity and a lot of violence.

The Foreigner is playing in cinemas now and is well worth the price of admission. Check it out.

Dead Men by Stephen Leather: Shepherd Number 5

Stephen Leather‘s Daniel ‘Spider’ Shepherd is an ex-Special Air Services (aka Special Forces, aka SAS) who now works for the newly formed SOCA (the Serious Organised Crime Agency) as an undercover operative. Dead Men is the fifth in the series and like all the other books about Spider, it’s a cracking good read.

As I’ve said before, Stephen Leather writes about the IRA quite often in his books, whether they are Spider Shepherd books or not, showing just how much the IRA are part of British history and life. Despite the peace talks and the fact that the IRA was “absorbed” by Sinn Fein, they are still a painful memory for a lot of Briton’s and only recently have been replaced as the national “boogey men” by Al-Qaeda.

Shepherd lives with his son Liam and their “live-in” housekeeper/nanny/cook Katra. His boss is the hard-as-nails Charlotte Button aka Charlie. She has transferred from MI5 to the new crime unit. He will in this book try to solve a series of IRA revenge killings while trying to keep Liam, Katra and Charlie safe from revenge killings from a different source.

Dead Men takes a closer look at the aftermath of the peace talks and the hard feelings felt by those who felt that justice had not been served regarding the terrorist action of the IRA. When the men and women who participated in Irelands “war” against England receive a “get out of jail free” card that absolves them of all crimes committed, a lot of people are unhappy.

The book opens with the barbaric execution of a local police constable Robbie Carter during “the troubles”. He is “kneecapped” (shot behind the knees) and then summarily shot in the back of the head. All this takes place in front of his wife and son.

Years later, someone is taking out the gang of “executioners” in the exact same manner that Carter was killed. SOCA has the job of finding out who is actually committing the murders. The finger of the law is pointing to Carter’s widow Elaine who, in the years after her husband’s murder, has also lost her son to Leukaemia.

Spider has been tasked to “get close” to her and prove her innocence or guilt. Meanwhile Charlie Button’s MI5 past is catching up with her in the form of an angry father. She and an American operative from “Spooksville” (CIA and black ops Homeland Security)  USA Richard Yokely (a very interesting character who is perhaps a bit more dangerous than Spider) interrogated two men who wound up dying as a direct and not so direct result of their questioning.

Poppa hires a top-of-the-league “hitman” to take them both out, painfully and aware of why they have been targeted. As the gang of IRA murderers gets smaller and smaller, only one is left. He is married “to a Kennedy” and has high political aspirations. But will he live long enough to see them happen?

As with all the Spider Shepherd books, Stephen Leather paints a sharp clear picture of his characters. They are alive and breathing; Leather’s ear for dialogue with all its nuances is, as usual, spot on. Shepherd is  interesting to read about and like the other books in the series you lose nothing by not reading them in order. Spider knows right from wrong and he  also realises that the world is full of a lot of grey areas. He deftly and with no qualms steps from the black and white world into this grey area in his undercover world.

Despite this book being somewhat “early on” in the Spider Shepherd books, the writing is just as crisp as in his later books. Published initially in 2008, Dead Men gives a bit more of an insight on Shepherd and on Charlie, while letting us into Richard Yokely’s world a bit more.

I would give Dead Men a 5 out of 5 stars for not only being a great paced action thriller but also a mystery of very enjoyable difficulty.

The Chinaman by Stephen Leather: A Rose by any Other Name…

Stephen Leather‘s The Chinaman is another of his earlier titles published initially in 1992. It is about a Vietnamese refugee’s hunt for justice after his wife and daughter are murdered by an IRA subversive group who aren’t playing by the cease-fire rules.

Leather writes about the IRA a lot. His books include characters that are in the Irish Republican Army or are people who have been a part of “the troubles” or have been affected by it.

In The Chinaman, we see the occupants of a department store going about their Christmas shopping. In particular we see the Nguyen family shopping. The girl, sixteen is stunningly beautiful and her mother looks years older than her actual age. We don’t get a chance to learn much about the two women as a motorbike rider has left his bike and a semtex parcel outside the store and in seconds they both become casualties of the resulting explosion.

Nguyen goes to the police to see what is being done about finding the men responsible and they direct him to the Terrorist Branch. He learns from them that it is a political problem; he then goes to the Irish politician who fronts Sinn Fein and reaches a brick wall. Nguyen then decides to take matters into his own very capable hands.

Nguyen is one of the “boat people” who escaped from Vietnam with his family after the war. Initially he fought with the Viet Cong and he switched sides when he realised that life in the NVRA wasn’t to his families benefit. Working with the Americans he fought the North Vietnamese. He is a skilled bomb maker and very able to kill someone with his bare hands. While everyone he comes in contact with see him as the owner of a Chinese food takeaway shop, he is more than his job and he is a sum of his past experiences.

While Nguyen takes on the IRA, the politician who is the spokesman for Sinn Fein, Liam Hennessy is in a race to catch this rogue IRA cell who are violating the cease-fire and killing innocent women and children. Hennessy’s got a traitor in the organisation that is supporting the cell. He must find out who it is and use the traitor to help him stop the rogue cell. Since Nguyen has targeted Hennessy as the person that can tell him who killed his family, Hennessy is also hoping to tell the “Chinaman” that the men responsible have been punished. If he does not tell Nguyen quickly enough, he will kill him.

It is amusing to see everyone in the book refer to the Vietnamese refugee as a Chinaman. Reminiscent of westerns where the characters call anyone with a German or Austrian accent Dutchie, because Nguyen is oriental a somewhat illogical conclusion is made to Hong Kong and he becomes the Chinaman. It is a nice touch and it’s one that mirrors real life. Another mirroring effect is Leather’s use of the IRA in his books.

When I first came to the United Kingdom, the IRA was still bombing civilian targets and killing women and children in support of their cause. Americans had (and a lot still do) a much romanticized idea about the Irish terrorist group and what they were doing. I am sure that good public relations, aka fund-raisers did not help to dispel this romantic version of terrorism.

I was on a bus tour in London October 1982. It was full of US servicemen and women and their families. The tour guide was doing what tour guides the world over do. “If you look to your right you’ll see ______ and if you look straight ahead you’ll see_____.” Right in the middle of his spiel he paused and with an emotional quaver in his voice said, “Earlier this year, the IRA blew up the Queen’s Horses.” Wiping his eyes with one hand he continued, “How on earth could your fellow countrymen support such people? Who did those horses ever harm? Three soldiers died and quite a lot of tourists were injured by the bomb. Why would you support such a thing? Why?”

The bus I was on was silent. I don’t know what everyone else thought, but I was ashamed of the fact that my fellow countrymen had supported this group. The IRA was a fact of life in this country for years, centuries. I’ve worked with men who had the unbelievably terrifying job of patrolling Ireland and searching for the “soldiers” of the Irish Republic Army.

I’ve never seen them as soldiers, terrorists are not soldiers. The picture that Steven Leather paints of the participants of this organisation is one of devout fanaticism and hatred of the British troops and the British government. Of course the picture also includes the religious roots of Ireland and the divide that enabled this “war,” or the troubles as the Irish refer to it, to go on for so long.

When Mr Leather writes his stories, he shows that the IRA still has a firm supporting base from not only American sympathisers, but from Syrian and Palestinian terrorist groups. He describes the far reach that the organisation has and exactly what lengths both sides are prepared to go to.

The Chinaman is a cracking good read and moves at a good pace. It is another example of just how entertaining this author is and will be for some time to come.

I give The Chinaman a 4 and a half stars out of five.

Author Stephen Leather.