Once upon a time, Stanley Tong’s Vanguard <急先锋> was set to compete with the other two action-movie heavyweights including the Donnie Yen-starred Enter The Fat Dragon <肥龍過江> and Dante Lam’s The Rescue <紧急救援> during the Chinese New Year season.
While Enter The Fat Dragon <肥龍過江> came and gone with little fanfare (even though I personally enjoyed the movie a lot), The Rescue <紧急救援> was forced to postpone until further notice due to Covid-19 pandemic. Vanguard <急先锋> suffered the same fate as well but finally managed to make its way in cinemas eight months later since the postponement.
Here, Stanley reunites with Jackie Chan for the sixth time (their last collaboration was the tepid Kung Fu Yoga <功夫瑜伽> back in 2017) and the result is nothing more than your typical Jackie Chan action-comedy flick with an international flavour. Wait, let me rephrase that. Vanguard <急先锋> is actually far from your usual movie that you normally come to expect from this veteran action legend. Jackie may have received the top billing here but the truth is, he’s more of a secondary role. And if that’s not enough, he doesn’t get to do much other than appearing in a few minor fight scenes.
Call it a cheap or misleading marketing tactic but I get why Vanguard <急先锋> is heavily promoted as a “new Jackie Chan’s movie”, given his well-established brand recognition. Not to mention he’s the only most popular star among all the cast here.
The real stars, however, are supposed to focus the China cast that includes Yang Yang, Ai Lun and Mu Qimiya. All three of them carry the roles of security experts, who work for Tang Huanting (Jackie Chan) of a high-tech security agency called Vanguard. They engage most of the physically-demanding scenes ranging from acrobatic fight scenes to several death-defying stunt moments. With the exception of Mu Qimiya who actually teaches taekwondo in real life, both Yang Yang and Ai Lun look convincing enough during the fight scenes, particularly in the opening moments.
And yet, for all the efforts they displayed onscreen, it’s a pity that Stanley’s choppy camerawork ruins most of the moments. It all happen too fast that he doesn’t give us enough time to appreciate the elaborate choreography. Stanley doesn’t just settled with hand-to-hand combats as he adopts the familiar “go big or go home” motto when comes to the action sequences — something that he used to prove his impressive technical know-how in the likes of Police Story 3: Supercop <警察故事III超級警察> (1992) and Police Story 4: First Strike <警察故事4之簡單任務> (1996). But most of them in Vanguard <急先锋> are laughably over-the-top and to make things worst, he relies a lot on obvious CGI too.
Speaking of CGI, Stanley feels the need of placing a CGI lion for the second time in the row after Kung Fu Yoga <功夫瑜伽>. And like the former, the CGI lion looks shoddy.
Story-wise, it’s basically about the aforementioned Vanguard team on a mission to save their troubled VIP client Qin Guoli (Jackson Lou, who previously collaborated with Jackie and Stanley in Police Story 4: First Strike <警察故事4之簡單任務>) and also protect Qin’s daughter Fareeda (Xu Ruohan), an environmentalist in Africa.
And that’s just about it. Any sign of character development and solid storytelling are thrown out of the window in favour of a thinly-disguised plot stitched altogether with lots of action sequences. In the old days, that’s pretty much what we got in Jackie Chan’s movies. Most of them worked well because they gave us memorable action set-pieces, worthwhile comedy moments and of course, Jackie’s typically engaging lead performance. But in Vanguard <急先锋>, the movie mostly misses the mark.
As for the cast, Jackie looks as if he’s accepting this job for the sake of a paycheck. Yes, I appreciated how he’s willing to risk his life (mind you, he’s already pushing 66 years of age) over one of the dangerous jet-ski stunts that almost drowned him. Even if he’s reduced to a secondary role, Stanley could have find better ways to make good use of him. Jackie clearly deserved better than this.
Coupled with cheesy dialogues and mostly unfunny comedy moments, Vanguard <急先锋> continues to be a downfall for Jackie Chan and Stanley Tong’s collaboration.