BLEEDING STEEL (2017) review

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On a fateful night in 2007, UN Special Forces agent Lin (Jackie Chan) is faced with a cruel dilemma: to be with his daughter Nancy in the hospital as she desperately clutches to life in the final phases of leukaemia, or to protect Doctor James, a geneticist who entered the witness-protection program after creating for an arms dealer a biochemical weapon whose formula, in the wrong hands, could bring about international chaos. Doctor James has been targeted by Andre (Callan Mulvey), a soldier enhanced with that biomechanical invention. Having painfully chosen international security over his daughter, Lin barely survives an attack by Andre that claims the life of most of his team. The same evening, his daughter dies. Fast forward thirteen years later, and Nancy is apparently still alive, attending high school under the watchful eye of Lin, who poses as a cafeteria worker at her school. Nancy is beset with recurring nightmares, and little does she know that she is the target not only of Andre and his right-hand woman (Tess Haubrich), but also of Leeson (Show Lo), a thief who found her profile in the files of a successful fiction writer.

For the first fifteen minutes of its runtime, Leo Zhang’s Bleeding Steel looks like it could be a solid melodramatic action film of the New Police Story kind, as Jackie Chan’s character makes an impossible choice and is then ambushed with his team: it’s an exciting and relentless opening, if one can gloss over the bad guy, who looks like a reject from Dark City‘s Strangers. Then when the plot picks up thirteen years later, in comes Show Lo in drag, and it all goes down the drain. There’s a few solid – if not exactly new – ideas for a science-fiction film here: biomechanically enhanced fighters operating from a spaceship-like air base, a transplanted heart carrying the memories of its creator, regenerating cells… But the film is disastrously written, with glaring plot holes (logic is replaced by, well, by nothing), odd plot turns (one about a successful author who wrote a book called, duh, Bleeding Steel, is particularly cringe-worthy in its randomness), and a tone that swings between grandiose self-seriousness and lowbrow humour.

That lowbrow humour comes in the person of Show Lo, who’s been hilarious in the recent films of Stephen Chow, but who here is unhinged and often obnoxious, mugging and gesticulating endlessly. That the film ultimately tries to pass him off as some kind of tragic character out for revenge is just another one of its unfathomable writing lapses. And the semi-flirtatious relationship he gets with Nana Ouyang is as devoid of spark as it is head-scratching: Lo may look disconcertingly boyish for a 38-year old, he’s still 21 years older than Ouyang. The film also repeatedly winks at the audience with an incredible lack of subtlety, from repeated mentions of “Jackie Chan”, to the use of the Police Story theme song in the end credits, a gratuitous tug at nostalgia (at least they didn’t title the film Police Story 2017).

But while costumes and set design are alternately routine (stock exo-suits and high-tech labs) and gaudy (seemingly the result of a collaboration between an antiquarian on acid and an S&M-obsessed teenager), action by the JC Stunt Team (with vehicular mayhem by Bruce Law) is mostly passable, with an extended set piece starting with Jackie using a drape as a literal stunt-wire during a fight on a stage, and ending on the roof of the Sydney Opera House (with a delightfully nonsensical punchline involving ice-cream cones), a rare moment of true, unabashed enjoyment. Jackie himself is in his serious mode, and his performance could have been quite solid if it hadn’t been encased in such a weird, amateurishly-written mess. Erica Xia-Hou, a former dancer who plays his police partner, also co-wrote the script with Leo Zhang. Judging by her adequate screen presence and the beauty of her fight moves, she should probably stay in front of the camera.

Long Story Short: Amateurishly written and visually gaudy, Bleeding Steel is a simplistic mess barely kept afloat by passable action scenes. **

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7 Comments

  1. I was planning on seeing it but i think i was lucky to give it a skip. Thanks for the review.

    Reply
  2. Why can’t we praise this film as the milestone that it is. It is a fully Chinese made film that isn’t jingoistic rubbish (Wolf Warrior 2), an historical drama, or from one of the heavy-weights (Zhang Yimou / Chen Kaige / Feng Xiaogang) that explores new ground fairly competently. Yes there are plot holes and the end went on far too long after the climactic action scene but, and here is my but, it had really good pacing, there were no dead moments in the film where it dragged, the humour was spot on, and as a mad mish-mash of cyberpunk / cop / Jackie Chan it kind of worked. Shouldn’t have, but it did. Chinese CGI has made a great leap forward with this film and I think, that this one is in the tradition of the great Jackie Chan movies of the past of doing something before anyone else does it. For a western movie goer we might have seen it done better, but for a mainland audience? There is a reason this movie is raking it in at the box office in China.

    Reply
    • I agree that it has a fairly unique place in the current Chinese cinematic landscape, that the pacing is good, and that the CGI is a notch above what’s usually seen in Chinese films. I found the humour obnoxious, but that’s a subjective notion, to an extent.
      Still, though the film’s box-office performance is solid, it’s one of the lowest-grossing films in Jackie Chan’s recent career, as well as among the other big films that came out at the year-end period in China.

      Reply
      • On the other hand it is also only the second movie that Leo Zhang has made. His previous outing was in 2012, “Chrysanthemum to the Beast” with none other than Jaycee Chan. One might want to consider the possibility that Jackie stepped into the movie to help out after Jaycee’s brush with the law. I highly doubt he would be allowed to star in a movie yet, if ever.

        Reply
        • He’ll probably not get offered any lead roles for sure, though he was in last year Railroad Tigers, and will be in next year’s Knight of Shadows (starring his father). He’s also preparing his first film as director, written by Erica Xia-Hou, of Bleeding Steel.

          Reply
  3. Dash Rendar

     /  March 6, 2018

    Just watched this movie and have to mostly agree with L. Meadow. It was actually quite solid and entertaining, albeit featuring some weird tonal choices. The comedy clashed with the rather bleak beginning and some bloody scenes in the end. It’s like they couldn’t decide, if they want to make a gritty new Police Story, a serious Science-Fiction film or a comedy á la “Rumble In the Bronx” set in Sydney. Nevertheless, rather unique mix, definitely entertaining, great action scenes and good fight choreography. That’s all we can ask for these days, actually.

    Reply

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