Length: 107 minutes
Director: Stanley Tong
Cast: Jackie Chan, Yang Yang, Ai Lun, Mu Qimiya, Xu Ruohan, Zhu Zhengting
3.5 out of 5 stars
Vanguard is an enjoyable, if slightly mindless, popcorn flick. Fortunately, it's done quite tastefully, which means the focus is firmly on the action, with the humorous parts used to support the action rather than to elicit cheap laughs. Boasting a good-looking cast, Vanguard is actually a decent film to catch this month.
The movie revolves around an independent security team, Vanguard, that is tasked to rescue a businessman and his estranged daughter. However, they discover that the businessman holds knowledge of a deadly secret — a secret that could put a powerful weapon in the hands of violent terrorists. If Vanguard doesn't stop the terrorists, then thousands of lives may be at stake.
Vanguard knows what you're there to watch and gives you what you want to watch. It's one of those films that meet expectations perfectly, neither exceeding nor falling short of expectations. It's all about the action and fighting, which is inventive and well-executed. It's simply a spectacle to be enjoyed, which is probably what audiences are looking for when they pick a film like this. There's some semblance of a plot, but all that really does is give an excuse for the cast to get from country to country, as well as to set up a loose romance thread.
Thankfully, the budding romance happens between two very good-looking cast members - spunky environmentalist Fareeda (Xu Ruohan) and dashing agent Lei Zhenyu (Yang Yang). It's not too serious though, so the film doesn't purposefully detract from the action to indulge in love scenes. Rather, it makes sure that there are just enough sparks to add another dimension to the plot, without trying too hard to remind viewers that there's something going on.
Unfortunately, Jackie Chan's talents are wasted on the film. He plays Vanguard leader Tang Huanting, and he also participates in many of the action scenes. But he doesn't do all that much, and you get the sense that he would have been better used in another role (villain, maybe?). It's disappointing how Vanguard fails to make use of Chan effectively in the film, and just chucks him in action scenes to increase the number of warm bodies fighting.
The variety of locations makes for interesting visuals, since the show goes from London to Africa and then to Dubai. You can see how it's supposed to be this globe-spanning plot that shows the scope of Vanguard's reach as well as the tremendous scale of the villain's plans. And true enough, it is a fairly grand, international production. But it doesn't work quite as well in the implementation because everyone speaks only Mandarin (Cantonese in some regions) or English. It tugs at your suspension of disbelief a fair bit, especially because the villains speak such heavily accented English. However, it's understandable given that it's marketed to a predominantly Chinese audience.
The scope doesn't come off as being quite that grand either. In fact, it often toggles between cartoony and world-threatening, especially with incongruous elements like gold-plated cars, villainous superweapons, lions and hyenas, and rubbing chilli padi in the eyes of villains. Oddly, the superweapon isn't half as threatening as the film makes it out to be, since it's thwarted almost too easily. Still, the movie makes a sincere attempt to excite and enthrall, so kudos to that.
Vanguard is bookended by incongruous Chinese New Year elements at the beginning and end – the movie was meant to be released earlier this year during the traditional CNY season. This might be a little jarring, since cinema-goers would be watching the movie long after the pandemic delayed its release.
But it serves its purpose as well, and makes for decent popcorn fare. A behind-the-scenes featurette accompanies the credits, so stay back for some interesting shots of how the action scenes were filmed (including the one where Jackie Chan nearly drowned).
Vanguard opens in cinemas on:
30 September 2020 (Singapore, Malaysia and China)