VANGUARD proves that sometimes they do still make ‘em like that. At least, director/writer Stanley Tong and topliner Jackie Chan have made something that feels like one of those big, splashy international derring-do actioners from the ‘70s and ‘80s. The difference is that the heroes, instead of being American or British, are Chinese. Chan plays Tang Huating, the CEO of the private security firm Vanguard. Despite the nasty reputation similar outfits have earned (something the movie doesn’t discuss), Vanguard is upstanding from top to bottom. When Vanguard operatives prevent the kidnapping of current client and former mob accountant Qin (Jackson Lou) in London, Qin’s daughter Fareeda (Ruohan Xu) is threatened in Africa. The whole team swoops in to protect her.
Besides leader Tang, the group includes single father Kaixuan (Lun Ai), his protégé Lei (Yang Yang), expert driver Miya (Mu Qimiya), and young cyber expert Shendiao (Zhengting Zhu). Escalating events take them to an ancient walled city (shot in India), then to Dubai (shot on location) in pursuit of a cranky, vengeful gang of mixed European and Middle Eastern terrorists. VANGUARD is careful to have some Arabic good guys in the mix, and the company’s ranks are inclusive. Despite the London opening, there aren’t any English characters, and the Americans that appear briefly are decent but in need of rescue by our heroes. Although Chan has less to do here physically than he has in Tong’s films of yore (this is their ninth collaboration), the performer still keeps his graceful ands and feet in, along with his air of gentlemanly good humor. Yang, Lun, and Mu are all exemplary in their fight sequences. Xu’s maidenly animal activist isn’t meant to be a warrior, but she’s game for everything she goes through.
There’s a lot going on here, with condemnation of poaching and illegal arms sales, and extolling Chinese virtues (in a solemn speech by Tang). Tong’s plot may be standard, but the stunts are impressive, and the scenery is stunning. Because they don’t hit them too frequently, emotional moments between the team members have a bit of heft. The dialogue is primarily in Mandarin and English, with subtitles in both languages. The spoken English isn’t always correct – someone says “cost” when he clearly means “value” – but it’s pleasing to see that efforts have been made to at least have the dialogue as part of the scenes rather than subtitled.
Likewise, it’s hard to argue with the anti-poaching sentiments. The animals that interact directly with the human performers have CGI-looking faces, but there’s a long statement in the closing credits about the safety of the “animal actors,” so there are some real creatures on hand. The closing credits have an informative mixture of stunts gone wrong, behind-the-scenes of stunts gone right, rehearsals and even a bit of horsing around. VANGUARD doesn’t seem like it’s at the forefront of anything new in terms of narrative or style, but it seems like everyone involved gets a real charge out of the stunts, and the scenery is spectacular. For viewers who miss 007 knock-offs from back in the day, here’s something from 2020 to add to the collection.