Blu-ray Review: Vanguard - (2020)

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For most U.S.-based viewers, the decision of whether or not to watch the frenetic action flick Vanguard hinges on a simple yes or no question: do you like Jackie Chan? I do, which is why I gave this Chinese import a spin. But we should probably add a follow-up question: how MUCH do you like Jackie Chan? Personally, about halfway through this secret-agent thriller I wished I was watching Police Story, or one of his U.S. hits like Rush Hour or Shanghai Noon. Are you enough of a fan to see anything he's in? A good litmus test—did you manage to get through the recent Iron Mask? If yes, proceed directly to Vanguard.

At 66, the martial arts legend understandably appears to be toning down his involvement in stunt-work. Chan isn't in the movie that much. When he is, he seems to stay mostly at the peripherals. Chan plays Tang Huanting, leader of a firm called Vanguard. They apparently perform security services for the wealthy. When an important client and his wife are apprehended by an international crime syndicate, Tang and his agents spring into action. And action is about all you get. I couldn't begin to summarize the globe-spanning "plot" if I tried. It's extremely difficult to follow. Even trying to read a summary is enough to make my brain shut down.

Basically, Vanguard takes a stab at a Mission: Impossible-type of thing. There is no shortage of action, much of it laced with goofy humor. And as pure onscreen action goes, a lot of it is well executed by director Stanley Tong. But action is all there is. And there's a shimmering artificiality to it that suggests watching a string of video game battle sequences with all the expository cut scenes missing. There's also a bunch of CG wildlife (one of the character's daughters cares for animals in Africa) that would probably look good in an all-animated film, but here they stick out like a sore thumb.

Vanguard is mind-numbing, but it could just be an acceptable time-passer for people who like to half-watch a movie while hanging out with friends or multi-tasking. The action scenes are sometimes compelling enough to hold interest, but this is kind of movie where you can fold laundry, do some cardio, or catch up on social media while it provides a distracting buzz in the background.

There is an English-dubbed track, though that option means a three-minute shorter running time for some reason (I didn't watch the Mandarin track, which offers the full version of the film). Again, Jackie Chan completists will benefit the most from Vanguard.

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Chaz Lipp writes for The Morton Report.

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