“Vanguard” (now available in theaters and on VOD) is the ninth collaboration between director Stanley Tong and Jackie Chan. The first film that really turned me and most Western audiences on to Chan is another pairing of these two – “Rumble in the Bronx.” This flick is a blast for a litany of reasons including Chan spanking a bare-assed baddie with an antenna he rips off a car, another villain getting mowed down by a hovercraft which shreds his clothes and arguably the best credits outtake reel of Chan’s career (he rocks so many smiles and thumbs up while being incessantly stretchered away to Ash’s propulsive “Kung Fu”). “Vanguard” isn’t nearly as entertaining or grounded as “Rumble” (a movie so stupid it proudly sports Vancouver mountaintops despite taking place in the Bronx), but it’s not without its charms.
Chan is Tang Huating, the head of Vanguard, an “international private security firm.” They’re assigned to protect wealthy accountant Qin (Jackson Lou) and his daughter, Fareeda (Ruohan Xu). Qin has drawn the ire of Omar (Eyad Hourani) and his goon Broto (stuntman/actor Brahim Chab) by narcing on Omar’s brother to authorities who in turn kill him with a drone strike. Assisting Tang with his detail are the experienced Kaixuan (Lun Ai), relative newcomer Lei (Yang Yang), reluctant honeypot Mi Ya (Miya Muqi) and youthful hotshot Shendiao (boy bander Zhengting Zhu).
“Vanguard” is a globe-hopping action/adventure picture with stops in London, Zambia, India and Taiwan. The CG varies from inspired (birds and insects are captured capably) to insipid (These have gotta be the least convincing lions and hyenas I’ve ever seen!). Things go from goofy to goofier when Shendiao sports a hoverboard more reminiscent of Dolph Lundgren’s piece from “Masters of the Universe” as opposed to Michael J. Fox’s ride from the “Back to the Future” sequels. Incredulity is further amplified by a jet ski chase staged on raging rapids that defies every law of physics (and almost killed Chan via drowning in actuality) and a fleet of gold-plated luxury cars rendered so weightlessly it’d flummox Vin Diesel’s Domenic Toretto to the point of spilling his Corona.
Despite what the marketing materials would lead you to believe, this isn’t a Chan starring vehicle. The 66-year-old international superstar is still a special effect in and of himself (Seriously, watch the way this cat gets into an SUV … it’s mind-boggling!), but this is very much an ensemble piece. There isn’t a whole lot of story and even less character development. All that said, it’s big, dumb, action-packed fun despite often stooping to becoming pro-Chinese propaganda (the phrase, “Captain China is way better than Captain America!,” is uttered enthusiastically) or simply a travel advertisement for Dubai.