Vanguard is Jackie Chan’s latest Chinese action blockbuster, re-teaming the kung-fu star with frequent collaborator Stanley Tong. Despite the duo’s illustrious track record (the Super Cop films are among Chan’s best work), their latest actioner feels like a wayward effort. Indulging in tired tropes and bombastic tendencies, Vanguard’s chaotic energy never reaches its campy aspirations.
Vanguard follows Tang Hauting (Jackie Chan), the leader of a covert security company. When an accountant becomes the target of a deadly mercenary organization, the Vanguard team is put to the test in a globe-trotting adventure.
For a film that is jam-packed with frenetic action sequences, Vanguard is rarely able to draw the audience’s interest. Tong’s typically lively hand as a director is noticeably missing, utilizing clumsy effects-driven sequences over the well-crafted stuntwork of his heyday (there’s a CGI lion here that looks like it’s from a PS2 game).
Colored with artificial backdrops and a frantic cluster of sped-up shots, every setpiece is presented with the same blandly-flavored aesthetics. They fail to muster a modicum of personality, poorly adapting concepts from far superior actioners. Some of these frames elicit a few cheeky fun moments (a flying jetpack trooper brings some much-needed chaos), but most of them feel too cheap and plain to register an impression. Eastern actioners often offer a fresh change of pace from Hollywood’s grandiose blockbuster, but Vanguard relishes in their worst traits. The dialogue often reads with a certain rigidness, straddling archetype characters with nothing interesting to say or do on screen (Chan seems half-asleep in his lifeless role).
There’s also a bevy of contrivances that feel woefully out of date. Every female character is treated as a mere object (the one “badass” female agent is later utilized as bait to lure a male advisory), while the film’s jingoistic politics leave a sour taste in audience’s mouth. It’s one thing to implement a patriotic verve, but the blatant reinforcement of China’s oppressive police state feels rather icky to endure.
Problematic politics aside, Vanguard is as disposable as a genre picture can get. If you’re a Chan film fan, just rent one of his superior older films instead.
Vanguard is now playing in theaters nationwide.
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