With movie studios hesitant to release films due to COVID, and yet theaters needing to show movies to justify their existence, it has all led to an odd Fall and early Winter for cinema. It does not bode well for the rumored Christmas release for Wonder Woman 1984, especially for us die hards who enjoy going to the local cineplex. If you have been going, you may have noticed some strange trailers. Even though Tenet came out months ago, and is now available for home viewing, it typically kicks off the string of previews. From there comes a series of films that were either supposed to come out this year but are being pushed to next, or are from obscure production companies who see the slow down in releases as an opportunity to get their offerings in theaters. In any case, it is usually the same four or five movies or so. Every once in a while, though, there has been a peak at today’s film, Vanguard, the The Naked Gun of Chinese action films. That is not meant to be complimentary.
In Vanguard the main characters are part of an international Chinese security force based in London. Do not bother asking how that works. You will get nary an explanation from me, much less the movie itself. Immediately the film launches into a kidnapping attempt on Qin Guoli (Jackson Lou). We are not told anything about this person, but terrorists want him. Immediately after he is taken, Lei Zhenyu (Yang Yang) and Zhang Kaixuan (Lun Ai) are called into action to effect a rescue. I guess the film is trading on the viewer perhaps seeing a trailer for this film to understand what is going on without telling you anything about the characters in the first fifteen minutes. At one point early on I turned to my poor friend who came with me to this train wreck and wondered if we were supposed to complete some readings before watching this movie. Lei and Zhang, as it turns out, are agents for the title group, and the terrorists believe Qin owes them money. Because Qin has a deal with Vanguard, they are sent in to retrieve him. After this first successful mission, Qin realizes that there is still more to do as his captors are now going to go after his daughter, Fareeda (Ruohan Xu), who is fighting poaching in Africa . . . of course. Thus Qin appeals to Vanguard’s head, Tang Huating (Jackie Chan), to travel to Africa and keep Fareeda from falling into the hands of the terrorists. Despite their best efforts, Vanguard is not successful in preventing her abduction, even though they enlisted the help of some hilariously awful Computer Generated Images (CGI) lions. Hence yet another rescue mission must be mounted to get Fareeda back from the terrorist stronghold in the city of Jiadebala, which is in the Middle East . . . somewhere. It does not matter. In this next mission, Qin gives himself up so that his daughter can get away with the rest of Vanguard. Qin then takes the terrorists to Dubai where the money they are looking for is stored. And we have yet another rescue mission. Rinse, wash, repeat. Yada, yada, yada. Explosion, explosion, explosion. Car chase, car, chase, car chase. Good guys win, bad guys lose.
There is not a lot to tell with Vanguard. What little plot is present is simply an excuse to matriculate the film on to the next action set piece. It is in its punching, kicking, and gun play that this movie becomes like The Naked Gun. The classic comedy series starring Leslie Nielsen as the bumbling police detective Frank Drebin are a spoof of well worn action troupes. Vanguard has all of those too but they are played straight, which is why it is a complete disaster. There are over-the-top car chases with cars that can seemingly do anything. They can fly through the air, jump from building to building, and even drive out into rivers and turn into boats. There are shoot outs, and there are times in The Naked Gun movies where the weapons malfunction at humorous moments. Similar things happen in Vanguard, but without any effect on the proceedings. And because this is a Jackie Chan movie, there are some sequences of fisticuffs. I am not sure what school of martial arts teaches poking somebody in the eyes Three Stooges style, but there you go. Yet that little piece also adds a further layer of awful to this film as it is referred to as “chopsticks.” Thus with that, and with one of the Vanguard agents putting on “brown face” for the Jiadebala raid, you have a bit of racism thrown into the sludge that is this film. Did I mention the rocket powered hoverboard?
I do not know what else to say about Vanguard. If you are lucky enough to live near an open theater and are thinking of seeing this one, I would suggest a different choice. However, it does have one saving grace in that it is so bad it is funny. My friend and I laughed in all the wrong places, which is a clear indication of such a confusing film. I feel somewhat bad about this reaction. Being a Catholic critic is not always the easiest job, though I feel little compunction when a film lacks morality. It is one of the guiding principles of The Legionnaire to warn audiences about such movies. There is nothing immoral about Vanguard, hence making fun of it is slightly non-Christ-like. Or maybe I am just taking myself too seriously again. Only God knows.