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.

The Birthday Girl by Stephen Leather: Not Just an Arms Race

My local library has gotten a whole load of Stephen Leather and Jo Nesbo books in at the moment so I’m having to “switch hit” as it were between the two. So it looks like a Leather and Nesbo winter read by the metaphorical fireplace.

I had hoped to read some more of Leather’s more vintage material, to get a feeling of how each story matured in the way of content and presentation. After reading The Birthday Girl though, which is still fairly early in his writing career being published in 1995, I think that plan has been circumvented by the fact that all Leather’s stories thus far have been rich in detail.

The book starts with Tony Freeman who works for an arms development company. He is outside of the Sarajevo Holiday Inn when he is kidnapped by Bosnian rebels and held for ransom. While in captivity he meets the leader of the rebels and his 13-year-old sister Merisha.

Back home, Tony’s partner Maury Anderson has made a deal with a Russian Mobster and his psychopathic brother to pay the ransom and to get some mercenaries to free Tony. As the mercenaries attack the rebels and start to kill Merisha, Tony throws himself over the young girl and is shot in the legs as a result.

While he is recovering, he demands to see Merisha (he had built up a rapport with the girl while he was being held for ransom). When he sees that she has been put in with male adult prisoners and is being mistreated, he demands her release and states that he will adopt the girl and that he and his wife will raise her.

In one of the less believable plot twists of the book, the authorities agree to this proposition and allow Katherine and Tony Freeman to adopt the little rebel.

Fast forward four years and it is Merisha’s 16th birthday. Besides the traditional celebrations all Maury Anderson’s “chickens” have come home to roost. His Russian buddies now want the entire arms company and he has a cocaine habit the size of an elephant riding on his back.

Katherine, we find out, is a bit of a nymphomaniac and is busily shagging anything with a snake in their trousers. Merisha is seeing a ‘shrink’ for therapy and Katherine is seeing him for other reasons. When Merisha finds out that Katherine is shagging the good doctor, she decides to pay him a visit and demand that he stop. She adores her father and will do anything to make sure he is happy.

It is another thriller and it is the usual fast paced, action packed read. I did enjoy the book, but, I spent a lot of time “skip reading” it. I found that I literally hated Katherine and Maury and really could not get behind their characters at all. So when a sentence would start with Katherine getting ready to have another extramarital shag or Maury begging the Russian gangsters for a little more leniency, I read one or two sentences and then would “skip” to the Tony/Merisha part of the story.

But to be truthful, I did not really like Tony that much either. He is a staunch Scotsman who sticks by his principles, but damn it, the man is as bland as Melba toast. Apart from standing up to Katherine’s bullying father so he could marry her and “saving” Merisha, he is devoid of any real personality.

The only character I had any interest in was Merisha. Leather’s description of her healing process after being taken away from the Bosnian/Serbia war was interesting and fairly truthful, I felt. I have had dealings with a teen Bosnian refugee from that horrible time.

He has seen his immediate family murdered and watched his mother and sisters being repeatedly raped. This young man was anything but normal. He had, not unsurprisingly, started off a life of crime and violence. His extended family (distant relatives who had taken him in) could not control or understand this tortured young man.

So Leather’s story of Merisha’s childhood and the horrible atrocities against her family and the other Bosnian families had a solid ring of truth. It is this fact alone that made the book worth reading. I have read other books that made reference to the ethnic cleansing that the Serb‘s were involved in, but they have been from a military or mercenary point of view.

It was very interesting to see it from a surviving victim’s point of view, despite the fact that I felt the initial opening of the adoption was a bit hard to digest.

I wouldn’t recommend that you rush out to read this book, but it is well worth a look. It is standard Leather reading but without the usual characters that you can really root for. You will have to suspend your disbelief quite a lot for this one, but I’d still give it three and a half stars out of five for entertainment value.

Stephen Leather.

The Fireman by Stephen Leather…Vintage Leather

Published in 1989, The Fireman by Stephen Leather is his second book. Leather was still working as a journalist at the time so it is no wonder that his protagonist and his story are set in the world of journalism.

Fireman is the term applied to a ‘high flyer’ in the news world. They are the journalists who are sent around the world at a moments notice to cover the big stories. They are the heavy hitters, the Babe Ruth’s of reporting and as such are on call twenty-four hours a day. It is an exhausting job, but one that pays well and you have a guaranteed by-line.

The main character is the fireman that the title refers to. Or was the fireman before he got jaded and his intake of alcohol required that he be “dried out.” The rehab was paid for by the newspaper he works for and he has slid down the professional ladder to second string crime reporter. One step below an overpaid youngster.

The paper is being taken over by computers and their workforce is dwindling. The fireman gets a call from Hong Kong where his sister Sally is working as a free-lance journalist. She has fallen from a tall building and the Hong Kong police are calling it suicide. He now needs fly to Hong Kong and sort her things out and explain to the police that Sally would never kill herself.

Set in the days before Hong Kong was “given” back to China, the colour and the pace of the place is brilliantly painted for the reader. The ex-pats and their comfort in a self-imposed exile from England are just as colourful and also sad. These are not life’s movers and shakers, rather they are the ‘also rans’ who have managed to find a place higher up on the social ladder.

That Stephen Leather has a solid background in journalism is apparent in how well he describes the setting of the newspaper’s working environment. I worked for a local rag in the early 90’s. Not as a journalist, but as a driver. As the paper was more localized I was privy to how a lot of things worked and got to see how every thing came together to produce the paper.

But, even if you haven’t worked in that arena, you can feel the authenticity of the characters and the pecking order as laid out by Leather in his book.

Written in the first person, you never learn the protagonists name. When I went to write this review I ‘skip read’ through the book repeatedly to find his name. Not there. This, I have been lead to understand, is a common device with Mr Leather in a few of his books. It does not detract from the story, if anything it helps give the impression that you are living the action right along with the hero.

And there is a lot of action to live through. You follow him every step of the way as he tries to find out who was behind his sister Sally’s murder. It is entertaining and very fast paced. As this was his second work to be published, it lacks a lot of the polish that his later books have. But the rough edges don’t detract from the story and it is still a good read.

In an interview, Leather has stated that he was not too happy about the family circumstances that his editor insist that he put into the story. I can empathise with him as that part of the story stuck out like a sore thumb and did feel “tacked on.” I won’t say what it is but I do believe that you’ll find the same when you read the book.

When the villain is finally tracked down and dealt with it is one of the best cases of poetic justice I’ve seen. I enjoyed my leisurely perusal  of vintage Stephen Leather and I am looking forward to reading some of his other earlier books.

While this book is not in the same league as Fair Game or Nightmare, Stephen still shows that splendid ear for dialogue that makes his books stand out so much from other authors.

I would highly recommend reading The Fireman. It will entertain you and hold your attention.