|Starring||Jackie Chan, Yang Yang, Ai Lun, Miya Muqi|
As a teen in the 90’s, Jackie Chan movies were part of my movie diet. From his classics like Drunken Master and Police Story, to the fun stuff like City Hunter, and even his American output like Rumble In The Bronx and Rush Hour. His movies were fun, and I loved them.
But in the last ten years, something happened to Jackie. It’s not that he got old, it’s just that he decided making movies in China was better than Hong Kong, and with the exception of The Foreigner, a non-Asian movie, his output over the last ten years has been horrendously bad.
So it was with that in mind, I approached Vanguard with trepidation. Was I right to be worried, or is this movie a surprise?
What's this Movie About?
Jackie Chan plays Tang Huating, the head of the Vanguard, a private security company that helps the rich and elite. But Jackie plays a back-seat role in this film.
A rich business man is being targeted by the son of his dead partner. He wants the money owed to his dad, and he kidnaps the man’s daughter Fareeda, an animal activist, as leverage.
At the same time, Vanguard operative Lei Zhenyu, played by Yang Yang, has also been kidnapped by the same man’s gang. The Vanguard have a motto: no person left behind.
They organise a rescue mission to recover both Lei and Fareeda, but the business man surrenders himself as a hostage, where he takes the gang to Dubai to recover his dead partner’s money.
The problem with this movie’s story is that it moves as such a brisk pace, and is full of so many plot holes, that this is about as best as I can summarise what actually happens without giving a scene by scene commentary.
Is it Worth Watching?
Are you expecting 80s or 90s Jackie Chan? Well don’t, because you’re setting yourself up for a massive disappointment.
What you will get with this movie is a lot of elements from a movie making era of the past.
Stereotypical bad Arab enemies, lots of nationalistic propaganda, over the top action sequences with very little substance, ridiculously poor CGI, an out-of-place shoehorned-in car chase scene, terrible dialogue including really cheesy gang names, and probably the worst thing of all, is that half of the movie is in English? Why? The bad guys are Arabic! Why would they speak English?
But there is some fun to be had here. There is some of the trademark Jackie Chan cheekiness in some of his action scenes that will bring a smile to your face, and there are enough explosions and other periphery action scenes to keep your interest for the whole running time.
What are Some of the Memorable Moments?
The most memorable parts of this film aren’t positive. So I will save those for the next section.
However, the rescue scene from the compound was quite exciting, even if the geography and flow of the action really made no sense. This is the scene where we are introduced to the hover-board riding operative, which admittedly looked pretty cool, if unbelievable. But this is a movie, and I am allowed to like unbelievable things.
And memorable, again for the wrong reasons, are the frequent instances of Captain China. What was the point of this element? Was that propaganda really important to get across?
What's Not So Hot?
The obvious downside to this movie is the CGI, and the overreliance on it. I get it, Jackie is too old to do the same kind of stunts he did back in the 90s, and no modern actor is ever going to do what Jackie and his crew used to do.
But from the really really bad animal CGI – both the lion and the hyenas which looks so fake you wonder how it was never picked up before release, and never improved in the 8 months this movie sat on the shelves waiting for its release after its initial premiere for Chinese New Year 2020 was delayed due to COVID.
Then there are some of the bigger set pieces that are a real disappointment. The most obvious one is the CGI car chase with the gold cars. Everything in this scene looks fake. From the way the cars drift, even though it looks more like sliding, to the ridiculous manoeuvres that could never be done in real life, this car sequences shouldn’t be in the film.
But the worst one, is the most disappointing. And that’s the water rapids scene. When you’re watching it, it feels like it is CGI when you consider some of the moves and stunts being pulled off. And there are obvious tell-tale signs of CGI and green screening. But then you see the end credit sequences, and most of it was filmed live. Which leaves you wondering, why not scale down the action in this scene and make it 100% real? As a Jackie Chan fan, you are conditioned to think that everything he does is real, so when this scene occurs, it feels like betrayal of everything you know about him and his movies. I’ve never had to question the stunts in a Chan movie before, and I don’t want to start doing it now.
The movie is not a complete write-off, its just the product of a filmmaking country that hasn’t quite matured to the rest of the world.
Just because you can do something, doesn’t mean you should. And in this movies case, just scale back some of the over the top action. It’s a Jackie Chan film, no one will ever think anything bad about a Jackie Chan film with scaled back yet believable action scenes.
With that in mind, this isn’t his worst movie, not by a long shot. Nothing could ever be as bad as Bleeding Steel.
My recommendation is: Your Choice
If you’ve seen it, what did you think?