VANGUARD is a recent Chinese action film, and the latest outing for the legendary Jackie Chan and his director Stanley Tong, one of Chan’s regular collaborators. The movie is named after the private army of its story. Vanguard employs military trained soldiers, and other uniquely talented individuals, to protect their clients. In this story, Vanguard is deployed to protect Qin (Jackson Lou) and his daughter (Xu Ruohan), from vengeful terrorists that Qin had betrayed. The film is quick to establish the top Vanguard officers: Mi Ya (Miya Muqi), Lei (Yang Yang), and Shendiao (Zhu Zhengting). The leader of Vanguard is Tang (Jackie Chan).
The story progressed in a way that felt like chapters in a novel. Some were very brief, while others comprised great events of the story. Tasteful transitions introduced characters, and took the story from tender moments, to far-out action scenes. Being a Chinese production, much of the film’s dialogue is spoken in Mandarin Chinese. A surprising amount of dialogue was also spoken in English. There are English subtitles, which seemed well done, if oddly formal at times.
The fantastic action scenes are where VANGUARD shines, and the term fantastic is used in a greater sense. Western audiences have a familiarity with harsher realistic action, but moments of physics-defying light heartedness thrive in VANGUARD. As flawed as the logic could seem, these moments were captivating, and made for fun scenes. It practically redefines what an action movie can be, and how enjoyable they can be without brutal violence and sadistic characters. It had a vibe of early James Bond movies, utilising vehicles and futuristic gadgetry to save the day. It’s a movie world where heroes look good, and villains look bad.
There are firearms in a number of scenes, but they’re often polished props. They’re treated more symbolically, and waved about as a tool to threaten, yet are quickly defeated by skilled martial artists. The fighting is fast, and has moments of surprising wit. They fight in a kitchen, where food selection is abundant, so they throw pineapples and boiling water. The most weapon-like foods. Even though the audience is confident that no harm will befall the heroes, the scenes remain tense. The fights occur in an expansive set, and often lead to new areas, or vehicle chases.
Of note, there are a number of international locations, although London and Dubai are most prominent. The locations generally add to the spectacle, but can seem overemphasised a little more than necessary. Much of the action is enhanced with computer animation and effects. They were added in a way that complimented the action, and though obvious at many times, were very fitting of the style and situation.
VANGUARD is a challenger to action film norms. Audiences watch a simple story evolve, without losing its charm, or going to dark places. It was great to see Jackie Chan portraying a character with heart, and fighting skills to match.
VANGUARD is now available on digital rental services like Apple TV, Google Play & Cineplex Store.