China must be feeling the heat from their genocidal (so-called de-radicalization) policies in Xinjiang, because their loyal cheerleader, Jackie Chan is now fighting Islamist terrorists. In this case, it is the super-Middle Eastern-sounding terror group, the Arctic Wolves. They are really more of mercenary gang, but at least they operate from a subjugated ancient walled city inspired by Timbuktu. Fortunately, Tang Huating heads a London-based Treadstone-like security firm that can take them down in Stanley Tong’s Vanguard, which opens this Friday in actual theaters.
In the opener, family man Zhang Kaixuan and his fellow Vanguard agent Lei Zhenyu must leave their Chinese New Year banquet to save a kidnapped client. He happens to be the former business partner of the Arctic Wolves’ chief financial backer. He had a crisis of conscience, right before finalizing a significant arms deal. The wolves want that mega-weapon, so they need the funds he hid from them.
Saving the client is the easy part. They also need to secure his daughter Fareeda, who made plenty of enemies of her own exposing poachers in Africa. Conveniently, the Wolves will hire them as subcontractors. From there, the action shifts to the Middle East, where Vanguard must rescue one of their own, before traveling on to Dubai (where everyone is eager to tell Tang how great China is, even though he lives in England), for the final showdown.
So, there is a lot of globe-trotting in Vanguard, as well as several elaborate action sequences. Wisely, Tong, the HK action veteran (who directed Chan in the Supercop I & II, Kung Fu Yoga, and several others) takes it easy on the Chinese propaganda this time around. Westerners are not the bad guys. Instead, it is the vaguely Arabic Wolves who are threatening world peace. However, there is one conspicuously unnecessary, momentum-killing scene, in which Zhang and his little boy talk about how vastly superior “Captain China” is to Captain America. Yeah, whatever.
Despite some questionable CGI lions and awkward dialogue, Vanguard plays it pretty straight, avoiding shticky humor and preachy politics. The big action set pieces are impressive, especially the escape from the Wolves’ stronghold. Clearly, Tong and Chan still work well together. It is an entertaining, but brainless ride that really requires viewers to be brainless (and forget Chan’s calculated betrayal of Hong Kong). Recommended for HK action fans, Vanguard opens this Friday (11/20) at the AMC Newport in JC, NJ.