In a mere 108 minutes, Hong Kong-based director Stanley Tong packs enough explosions, fisticuffs, vehicle chases and gunplay to fill the entire "The Fast and the Furious" franchise and still have a little escapist mayhem leftover.
In some ways, "Vanguard" works roughly the way a machine gun does: if one bullet misses, one from the next series of 100 projectiles won't.
Tong, who has helmed some of Jackie Chan's best movies including "Supercop," knows that viewers of his and Chan's films aren't looking for intricate plots or three-dimensional characters. The trill is seeing how frequently he and Chan can flout the laws of physics. In his mid-60s, Chan can be excused for having stunt doubles or for outsourcing some of the combat scenes to other performers.
That said, for a man who has literally broken every bone in his body, Chan is still astonishingly agile and has enough acting chops to play the CEO of a security firm instead of a bumbling but oddly successful cop.
This time around Chan plays Tang Huating, the head of the London-based private security film Vanguard. The movie opens with the kidnapping of one of their clients Qin Guoli (Jackson Lou). Before you wonder if the film might not be providing adequate service, Lei Zhenyu (Yang Yang), Zhang Kaixuan (Lun Ai) and Mi Ya (Miya Muqi) rescue him and get him to the company headquarters despite a crowded Chinese New Year celebration filling the streets of the English Capital.
The Vanguard operatives dodge revelers and bullets to retrieve Qin. They also find ways, in true Jackie Chan tradition, of subduing antagonists by using objects that normally wouldn't be considered as weapons. I'll never think of peppers quite the same way again.
Expectedly, this is only the start of an even bigger crisis. Qin's past business dealings led to unwitting collaborations with terrorists. They're understandably upset that he helped tip off American authorities to their now deceased leader. His vindictive son Omar (Eyad Hourani) wants the cash back so he can stage more attacks and tyrannize a make-believe Middle Eastern country.
The first mission may have failed, but Qin's daughter Fareeda (Rouhan Xu) is taking on poachers in Africa, so the mercenaries Omar has hired, the Arctic Wolves, track her down to coerce Qin into paying up.
The journey leads Tang and his crew across continents and involves devices and vehicles James Bond would envy. There are drawbacks to this kitchen sink approach to filmmaking.
As much fun as it is to see a lion eating a would-be poacher, it's hard to wonder if the same director who could handle guns, cars and martial arts with such finesse could have benefited from better computer generated images or if good animal trainers are in short supply.
On second thought, they do find an enjoyable way to work Dubai's aquarium and shopping malls into a movie.
Tong and Chan have made nine movies together, and there are some things they do well. Throughout Chan's filmography, you can spot his characters feeling pain during fist fights, which is what happens in the real world. While their Chinese films are as escapist as our own, there is a sense that violence has consequences, some of which aren't intended.
Tong clearly has a bigger budget this time around, and his movie leaps across continents and features chases and mayhem that weren't conceivable in 1980s and 1990s Hong Kong. The version of the film I caught was subtitled in Mandarin and English. The dialogue that is in English sounds awkward, but there aren't many high speed pursuits involving gold cars in cinema these days. Tong deserves some credit for his unswerving commitment to excess.
85 Cast: Jackie Chan, Yang Yang, Miya Muqi, Lun Ai, Jackson Lou, Ruohan Xu, Zhengting Zhu, Desmond Aldridge, Nicole Atalla, Can Aydin
Director: Stanley Tong
Rating: Not rated
Running time: One hour, 48 minutes