When you watch tons of movies to review it takes something really special to make you pull a concerted face of bafflement for the whole run time. Bleeding Steel, starring Jackie Chan, is a film so bizarrely poor that I defy anyone to watch it with anything other than confusion. For the life of me, I am at a loss to summarise what Bleeding Steel is about. It is like all the mid-budget 90s action movies with mega-blockbuster aspirations rolled into one. It is like every movie that shot for being the Matrix but had none of the scriptwriting, cinematography, or acting talent to pull it off.
There’s an unkillable cyborg type guy who looks like a Mad Max Fury Road knock off. There’s a genetic regeneration plotline that fades in and out as convenient. Then there’s a character introduced in a big cross-dressing plotline lifted straight from a time when PC only stood for ‘police constable’. There’s a quasi space ship jet thing that has no explanation for its presence. Bleeding Steel is a movie that stamped ‘techno cyber-thriller’ all over the script to fill in any gap where some sort of logic would otherwise be demanded.
Bleeding Steel also suffers from OTT action fatigue that is endemic to the most whizz-bang section of Asian cinema. We jump immediately into a big shoot out set-piece with Chan (Special Agent Lin Don) and his squadron of copycats being mown down by what looks like cyberpunk bikers. The slow-mo shots, explosions, and bloodshed are more reminiscent of a finale, not opening. Sure, start the movie with some excitement. But when there is little to no context and the battle goes on for a good 15 minutes, you can be forgiven for double-checking if this is indeed only the start of the movie.
From that point onwards the tone varies wildly. 13 years later we have amnesiac Nancy (Ouyang Nana – a Taiwanese singer and musician), Chan’s grown-up daughter who somehow survived her apparent death in the opening scenes and is now haunted by disturbing dreams. She spends her time lamping high school bitch racists and also visiting a hypnotist witch, as you do.
There is also Li Sen (Show Lo – also a Taiwanese pop star) who is ripped from the ‘comedy cheeky boy’ playbook but in such a manner that neither the comedy nor cheekiness ever actually land. He protects Nancy from a gaggle of would-be rapists that are so casually thrown at her that again you’d be forgiven for double-checking if this movie was released in 1997, not 2017. They and Chan all lurch from one insipid set piece to another all for Reasons and Circumstance rather than any crafted narrative.
Jackie Chan’s 50+ year career in cinema has created a filmography of movies that are often their own genre. So much so that his presence in a movie often brings with it a certain expectation of quality and style. It would be a disservice to the acting talents of the man to mark down a movie simply for not being his typical comedy action fare. One need only watch more dramatic starring roles such as the excellent Chinese Little Big Soldier, or UK based The Foreigner, to know that Chan has plenty of dramatic heft. However, that doesn’t detract from the awfulness of Bleeding Steel and puzzlement at Chan’s willingness to star in it.
The comedy isn’t funny. The action isn’t engaging. The plot is non-existent. The performances are uninspired. Oddly, for international release, the movie has been partly dubbed in English and there is no Cantonese language option. Bleeding Steel is such an odd duck that it almost slots into ‘so bad it’s good’ territory. Almost. But don’t hold me responsible if you’re left with bleeding eyes at the end of it. Watch John Wick instead!
Words by Michael Record