Jackie Chan returns to Australia, but this is no First Strike.
As a younger man Jackie Chan infused his movies, both contemporary classics (Police Story) and period gems (Project A), with athleticism, physical humor, and awe. Age and injury have both gotten in the way of those goals over the past couple decades, but Chan’s still a typically reliable entertainer on screen (when he’s not pimping for the Chinese government). CG, wire-work, and stunt doubles are now the norm for his action movies, though, and while that’s a massive step down for Chan it’s basically where most of today’s other action stars have spent their entire careers. No, the issue with much of Chan’s later work, particularly his modern-set films, isn’t his inability to perform like a thirty year-old — it’s his insistence on making them supremely stupid.
Kung Fu Yoga, Chinese Zodiac, Skiptrace. His humor’s no longer translating all that well to the screen, and combined with weaker action the comedic films are ultimately letdowns. (As opposed to legitimately fantastic serious fare like The Foreigner and Shinjuku Incident.) His latest has all the hallmarks of those duds, particularly the homegrown Chinese productions, but while Bleeding Steel is most certainly inane and incomprehensible it’s also… a little bit fun?
Lin Dong (Chan) is a special unit detective en route to the hospital where his young daughter Nancy is undergoing a life-threatening operation. Before reaching her, though, he’s tasked with an immediate evacuation of a scientist to a safe house, and as should be expected the mission goes horribly wrong. A pale wizard (?) in a black cloak attacks Lin’s team with the aid of a robot snake and heavily armed/armored soldiers, and when the dust settles Lin’s on the brink of death.
Thirteen years later a bestselling Australian writer named Rick Rogers is promoting his new novel Bleeding Steel which features details remarkably similar to the scientist’s work. I guess? The now college-aged Nancy is visiting a witch doctor with a little-person assistant who hypnotizes her and records her memories and nightmares about the pale dude. Or something? A female super-villain in a cape kills people with a fidget-spinner in pursuit of Nancy. For some reason? Anyway, Lin’s been working undercover at an on-campus noodle shop to keep an eye on Nancy who thinks he’s dead, but now he’s thrown into view as he tries to protect her against threats he thought he left far behind.
Look, it would be disingenuous to pretend Bleeding Steel isn’t low-end Chan, but there’s still more fun to be had with it than you’d expect. Director/co-writer Leo Zhang is something of a messy filmmaker, and as clunky as the script is the direction is equally jumbled, but the set-pieces are truly something to behold.
The opening assault involves (some surprisingly bloody) gun play, explosions, and martial arts, and more elaborate fight scenes follow as Lin goes toe to toe with the ass-kicking woman with the fidget-spinner. Nancy finds some trouble of her own and gets into two scraps — Australians are very hostile toward Asians, apparently — including one chase and fight with some racist parkour enthusiasts. Masked baddies ride around in Audi SUVs, the third-act features an Avengers-like flying aircraft carrier, and a fight set atop Sydney’s famed Opera House stands out as a pretty solid sequence thanks to on-location filming.
The tone, though, is all over the place. After a super serious opening the film jumps to a male hacker who dresses up like a prostitute — complete with fishnets and breasts — whose reveal is played for surprise and laughs. There’s no real surprise, of course, as it’s a skinny woman with real breasts playing the stripper before it cuts to reveal the man pulling off a fake chest. It’s like Austin Powers-level nonsense, but then the next scene sees Nancy chased by rapey locals mocking her ethnicity.
Bleeding Steel is ultimately something of a kitchen sink kind of movie with all manner of things thrown in to see what sticks. It features a vibrant production design and entertaining action, and it’s never dull, but it’s not a Chan film you’ll want to revisit anytime soon.
Bleeding Steel opened July 6th, 2018 in limited theatrical release and on demand.