Jackie Chan Isn’t the Right Kind of Asian for ‘The Foreigner’

First the facts: the trailer just dropped for Jackie Chan’s new movie The Foreigner. It’s about a Vietnamese dad (played by Chan) who goes on a roaring rampage of revenge after his daughter gets killed in a terrorist’s bomb. Unlike most past Chan movies, this is not an action/comedy. It’s a gritty action movie directed by Martin Campbell, of Casino Royale fame. The story is taken from a 1992 book called The Chinaman by Stephen Leather. Got all that?

The controversy reaches far and wide. Some of it is more valid than others. To a white audience, the differences between a Chinese guy (like Chan) and a Vietnamese guy (like the dad he’s playing) may be subtle, but writer Linh Le makes some good points for the uninformed.

On the other hand, how much does the authentic Vietnamese experience play a role in this movie?

I can only relate to this personally. I’m Jewish, and while there has never been a lack of Jews playing Jewish characters in my life, that doesn’t always happen. What if a German played a Jew in a movie? I have living relatives who survived the holocaust. Should I be offended on their behalf?

We can make this less rhetorical. Michael Fassbender played not only a Jew when he played Magneto, he played a Jewish survivor out for vengeance on the Nazis. Not only is Fassbender not Jewish, and German, he looks like someone genetically crossed a Nazi and a shark. But he’s a good actor, and he captured the pain and the anger of the character through his talent.

So can Jackie Chan play a Vietnamese character? I don’t get the final say-so in this, but I’m going to wait to see the film and the performance. I don’t want to minimize the problems in Hollywood casting, but I also don’t want to hold up this one Chan trailer as a prop for everything wrong with the world.

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