Unputdownable Chinaman by Stephen Leather and lousy Jackie Chan’s Foreigner

After finishing a boring mediocre Ken Follet “On Wings of Eagles “ published in 1983, I got started with Stephen Leather “The Chinaman.” It’s a much better thriller than “On Wings of Eagles.” “The Chinaman “ is tight, fast faced and straight to the point. Unlike “On Wings of Eagles “, “The Chinaman” is only slightly more than 300 pages, not drudging or confusing with lots of padding on an otherwise thin uninteresting plot in the case of “Eagles.” “The Chinaman” is basically about IRA- Irish Republican Army and DIY bomb making!

When I was about to finish reading “The Chinaman “, I casually mentioned to my colleague about the story line of the thriller. Straightaway, she said that it’s made into a movie with old man Jackie Chan as “The Chinaman” or rather “The Foreigner” in the movie. I wasn’t aware of that when Sultana strongly recommended that I should read this novel during my last visit there. It’s really worth it. Link

My colleague, Miss Tan an avid movie buff, about 30 yrs younger than me suggested that I should watch the movie “The Foreigner”, which is based on the same story line as in “The Chinaman.” I don’t really watch TV or movies at all. She wirelessly sent me an application known as “Cartoon HD” where one could download tons of free movies to watch!

I was amazed by this discovery. No wonder people don’t read novels nowadays with tons of free available online movies! To read a novel, it takes me about a week of on and off reading. But it only takes about an hour to watch a movie. It speaks a lot of a novel compressed into an hour of visual images instead of reading it thru trying to create your own images in your mind’s imagination.

Upon my colleague’s suggestion, I decided to download and watch the movie, “The Foreigner” on my Asus tablet. From the start it’s a disappointment! That’s why I never like to watch movies adapted from novels. I decided to fast forward towards the end to figure out how the plot ended. True enough more disappointments! It took me barely 20 mins to finish the movie by fast forwarding to the end.

In the novel, the chinaman’s wife and daughter were in a shopping mall in the heart of London. It describes in details how they go about shopping in the crowded shopping mall ie picking up items and looking at price tags, changing their minds and getting excited over new items on display with a tired shabbily dressed old ugly lady tottering over a young lovely gaiety young lady etc. They are the wife and daughter of the chinaman.

In the midst of the shoppers, suddenly one brand new big motorcycle just parked outside the shopping mall with the rider wearing riding jacket and full faced helmet walking briskly through the mall exiting the other end. Moments later, a powerful explosion from the motorcycle went off ripping thru the shopping mall resulting in more than 10 casualties and many injured.

Completely different from the novel, “The Chinaman” or rather “The Foreigner” in the movie played by Jackie Chan sent his daughter to the shopping mall. The daughter dropped off and entered the mall with Jackie Chan trying to park his car just outside the mall resulting in a minor accident cuz another car was also trying to park at the same lot. When they came out of the cars to check, the bomb from a nearby motorcycle went off.

Interestingly, only Jackie Chan managed to survive with uncountable bruises and cuts all over his “handsome” face and complete body. The other driver who had an accident with Jackie’s car was dead but Jackie the chinaman managed to survive the powerful explosion right in front of his nose, looking for his only daughter. The camera then shows Jackie holding tightly to his dead daughter, albeit complete body with no disfigurations or missing limbs sobbing and crying! Incredible lah! Lol.

In the novel, uniform police officers on rounds had to inform the chinaman at his “Double Happiness” Chinese takeaway stall the bad news that his wife and daughter were killed in a senseless explosion at a shopping mall.

Indeed, stark differences on the opening scene in the novel and movie! There are even more stark differences along the way except that both share similar plot and story line. The IRA claimed responsibility for the bombing. There were many more subsequent bombings by a renegade unit of the IRA not sanctioned by the leadership.

The “chinaman” just to side track is not a chinaman at all. He’s actually a Vietnamese. Born in Vietnam as a Vietnamese skilled in lethal combat killing & assassination, expert bomb maker and lived in the deep tunnels during the Vietnam war. He fought for the Americans against the Vietcong but ended up as boat people and eventually as British citizen living in London earning his living running a Chinese takeaway stall instead of Vietnamese food cuz Londoners still prefer Chinese cuisine.

No wonder Jackie Chan chose to name his movie, “The Foreigner” instead of “The Chinaman” even though it’s an adaptation from the novel.

The ending part in the novel had the chinaman killed together with the three terrorists in a small flat when Anti Terrorism Unit commandos stormed in. The chinaman was there to seek revenge. The timing was just right when the chinaman entered the flat pretending to deliver takeaway armed with a false replica rifle with the commandos rushing in for the kill. Their instruction is to eliminate all and finish the job there and then.


“The Colonel’s voice spoke in his left ear. ‘The plane has gone down. We assume all lives lost. Operation is discontinued. No loose ends. I repeat, no loose ends.” Pg 323

Whereas in the movie, Jackie playing the chinaman appeared macam like Rambo shooting all the three terrorists with his guns. Wonder where he got his guns from? The entire action packed killing and cowboy trigger happy style belongs to Jackie Chan, the one man show screen hero with those anti terror specialist commandos doing nothing! Not a single shot was fired by them! WTF? Lol.

In the novel, the plane exploded in mid air when the reporter unknowingly carried a laptop with an IED in the battery compartment. Whereas, the police officer in the movie managed to track the reporter in the Gate Hold room, (about to board the plane) seized the laptop and throw it away to the aerobridge where it exploded.

Yup, Jackie Chan as the hero in “The Foreigner” didn’t die in the end but went back to his Chinese takeaway stall. But “The Chinaman” died a lonely pitiful death as a nobody without anybody knowing the truth. He died together as one of the terrorists in the flat. Unlucky fellow happened to be at the scene when those anti terror commandos strike! I guess it’s one of the perks if you direct your own scripted movie to make yourself a hero instead of ending up as a nobody. Lol!

Another interesting trait of the chinaman is that he keeps smiling and being polite throughout the novel even though he’s heartbroken with the sudden innocent death of his wife and daughter as he relentlessly and tenaciously sought to find out who in the IRA are responsible.

The writer in his so many comments and side notes had one that caught my attention. It sums up what I’m trying to say.

“She (bomb maker) didn’t die straightaway, they never did. In books they often said that people who were shot died before they hit the ground. It never happened that way, Joker (Commandos Team Leader) knew. Joker had killed people in Belfast, in the Falklands, in the Middle East, and once in Spain, and he’d yet to see anyone die straightaway, no matter where they were shot. If the bullet went through the heart or in the lungs then the brain kept sending out messages for up to a minute or so before their eyes glazed over and they finally died. If they were shot in the head and the brains were splattered over the floor, then the heart continued to pump and the limbs twitch for a while until they realised that it was all over. That’s what it was like in real life. Not many people knew the difference between death in books and movies and death in real life. But Joker knew.

When the bullet tore through her back and punched a ragged hole in her chest, her arms flailed out and she grunted. Some time after that she died in a pool of blood, her arms and legs drumming against the floor, saliva dripping from her and watch while she died, he stood with his back to her, looking out over the river as he waited for the banging and wheezing to stop. Slow deaths always embarrassed him.” Pages 323, 324.

Nothing beats the graphic imagination of reading than watching that graphic scene. No movie however great the director could replicate the powerful imagery sketched out by the writer! Therein lies the difference between reading a well written novel and watching the movie adaptation.

Read the book review here.

Click here to read more book reviews. 

About Gintai_昇泰

I'm a Chinese Singaporean living in the Eastern part of Singapore. I tweet on current affairs & inspirational quotes. I blog on issues or events if they interest me. I write for pleasure. I also write mainly for my family and friends.
This entry was posted in Gintai. Bookmark the permalink.

1 Response to Unputdownable Chinaman by Stephen Leather and lousy Jackie Chan’s Foreigner

  1. Wow, what an awesome review! I am so glad you enjoyed the book more than the movie! So did I, obviously!

    Liked by 1 person

Comments are closed.