Jackie Chan is Still Alive, but Not Really Kicking

His latest, ‘Vanguard’, is all bomb, no fist

Jackie Chan is not dead. Let’s just get that out of the way. And no, he does not have COVID-19. In fact, he has been quite busy over recent years even if he hasn’t been starring in Rush Hour 8 or whatever.

2020 sees Chan reteaming with director Stanley Tong for their seventh outing together in Vanguard, a globe-trotting action flick from the China Film Commission that squanders its talent in favor of bombast.

VANGUARD ★★(2/5 stars)
Directed by: Stanley Tong
Written by: Stanley Tong and Tiffany Alycia Tong
Starring: Jackie Chan, Yang Yang, and Miya Muqi
Running time: 108 min

Vanguard follows the adventures of a military security agency led by Tang Huating (Jackie Chan) in an administrative role. The name of that agency? Vanguard! They’re here to protect their wealthy VIP clients even if it means exerting the kind of armaments and personnel you’d expect from a sovereign nation’s armed forces.

Tang taps two of his best agents to thwart a kidnapping plot against one of his top clients during Chinese New Year, but even with that crisis averted, the client’s daughter Fareeda (Ruohan Xu) remains a target. The whole Vanguard team heads off to Africa to find Fareeda before the terrorists can kidnap her. They find out when they arrive that she’s apparently some sort of wildlife activist influencer star.

At this point, the film tips its hand as a bonkers high-octane ride that’s more akin to an amusement park attraction with machine guns than any sort of martial arts film that would deploy Jackie Chan’s legendary moves. This sequence features CGI lions chasing poachers and a Jeep that transforms into an aquatic vehicle that can navigate a raging river. Also jet skis.

With Chan now 66 years old, films like this obviously must relegate him to more of an OG status where he doesn’t do all the fighting. It’s just a fact of life. That’s why it’s disappointing that this attempt to change the [van]guard with some younger talent fails to showcase their martial art skills or charisma. Instead it relies on the kind of big guns, flashy cars, and explosive dramatics you could get from a Fast and Furious movie.

Overall it plays as light state-sponsored propaganda, but no more than your typical American action romp would push the ‘Murica jingoism. Transparently goofy exchanges like “My wife is Chinese,” with a response of, “Chinese! Must be beautiful,” remind us that this is a bit of flashy board of tourism shenanigans in the form of celluloid in a time when China is getting a lot of bad press. 

If you’re hoping to see a classic Jackie Chan film with creative fight choreography that doesn’t take itself too seriously, you’ll unfortunately only get the latter quality. The  scant hand-to-hand combat in Vanguard is unimpressive compared with what’s coming out of Indonesia these days.

Still, it’s a treat to have Jackie Chan still making films, to know that he’s still doing all his own stunts, and to know that he’s alive and well.

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Pablo Gallaga

Pablo Gallaga is a former video blogger and recapper for Television Without Pity (RIP). You can probably find him at an Alamo Drafthouse in Austin, Texas. He will thwart your alien invasion by uploading a rudimentary computer virus to your mothership using a 1996 Apple Powerbook and no Wi-Fi.

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