You look back on the late eighteenth century and it’s easy to surmise, as director Timothy Woodward Jr. does, the darkness and endangering unease of the Western frontier in his new film, The Outsider.
Such is the backdrop that lay the foundation for the kind of foreboding introspection he exhibits as the story unfolds with a town Marshall (Trace Adkins) beleagured with raising his deranged, albeit only son, James (Kaiwi Lyman) who now finds himself the target of the lone Chinese man whose pregnant wife he raped and killed.
Crafting a brutal path of vengeance, is the role of Jing, played by actor Jon Foo whose lead performance shares minimal screentime compared to most of his co-stars. Much of The Outsider places hefty focus on illustrating the Marshall’s own beleagurment and internal conflict – one often mired in quiet contemplation with his faith, whereas James prefers to follow his own prerogative against the advice of his father.
Jing’s mission has already turned up a bodycount by the film’s first scene with Marshal’s own bewilderment the moment he walks into a bar, unbeknownst of the idea that such a man who can take out a single room of armed men exists (i.e. Asian guys who happen to know martial arts when they need it the most). It’s a fascinating development that births Marshal’s own curiousity about who the mysterious man is, though it’s really a matter of time before the film’s key developments play out as the Marshall hopefully intends.
Jing soon crosses paths with Christopher King (Sean Patrick Flanery), a drunken tracker hired by Marshal to find him, and lo and behold the results don’t exactly turn out as they intend with Chris ultimately turning back to the Marshal’s own home to deliver Jing’s “message”, one of two thusfar at this stage.
A story like The Outsider ends the only way it probably could. Before long though, father and son will fall out, an on-the-fence tracker with a jammed pistol, a death wish and nothing to lose finds meaning, and a Chinese man with neither a home nor a country will lay a brutal path of retribution before eventually crossing blows mano-e-mano with his wife’s rapist and killer.
Crafting an often pensive, slow-burn western revenge thriller in The Outsider, there’s value to be had in Foo’s latest and fairly decent performance opposite Lyman’s sadistic and maniacal James and Adkins’ brutish-but-measured portrayal of the Marshal.
Flanery’s ample supporting delivery as the sobering, world-weary King stands on its own; he lends a similar portrayal in Shaun Piccinino’s Fantasia 2019 darling, American Fighter, easily reinforcing him as a genre fan favorite, one that fans might even hope will get a more grand feature outing.
With Foo, it’s been just as touch and go in the past decade. A career that once saw him going toe-to-toe on screen for legends like Yuen Woo-Ping and the late Panna Rittikrai has taken a turn for more feasible, smaller niche productions over the years next to a career in television that ended before it really took off.
Woodward’s The Outsider marks Foo’s first starring feature role since Crackle actioner, Extraction, and Jean-Marc Mineo’s Bangkok Revenge. It’s also the actor’s third film with Woodward Jr. and for that, it’s a terrific observation watching both recur on set together for different projects.
As you’re reading this, I imagined what it would be like if Foo had the kind of actor/director workrate similar to the likes of Donnie Yen and Wilson Yip, or Adkins and Florentine or Johnson. While 4Got10 and Weaponized remain on my watchlist, The Outsider presents a solid foundation for Foo’s latest outing as an actor who I feel is just as deserving as the guys getting cast for shows like Wu Assassins and Warrior to date.
The film still has its own flaws to trevail – much of the film’s action is tightly shot and takes place in the dark which can be crippling, and at least one major scene exerts the editing a bit too much. Thankfully this is counteracted by a concentrated application of cinematography that employs a balance of master shots and steadicam use that doesn’t try to shake things up to compensate.
The complimentary and redeeming framework of the film though is Adkins, Lyman and Flanery, with Foo providing his talents with clearly, and highly deserving approval. A rental would be a wise choice, or a fair viewing on Netflix where you’ll find The Outsider along with Woodward Jr.’s Hickok and Silencer.
Native New Yorker. Lover of all things pizza, chocolate, pets, and good friends. Karaoke hero. Left of center. Survivor. Fond supporter of cult, obscure and independent cinema - especially fond of Asian movies and global action cinema. Author of the bi-weekly Hit List. Founder and editor of Film Combat Syndicate. Still, very much, only human.