Bleeding Steel isn’t a great Jackie Chan movie, but it’s at least a few notches better than The Nut Job 2.
For all its flaws, the loopier-than-usual Jackie Chan vehicle Bleeding Steel deserves at least one honorary award: Most Outstanding Deployment of the Dramatic Device Known as Chekhov’s Teddy Bear. Despite poorly-shot action scenes, bad CGI and a sometimes incoherent plot, the movie is watchable thanks to a dazzling set piece and its likeable star, who makes the script’s manipulative cornball touches kind of admirable.
A pre-credit sequence sets the dense stage. Lin Dong (Chan) is a police officer hurrying to see his young daughter in the hospital; you see, she’s dying of leukemia, and Lin has strapped his daughter’s favorite teddy bear to the back seat of the squad car to ferry it to his ailing child. Unfortunately, the officer is suddenly called to a crisis situation. In tears (and, as we see in parallel action, as his daughter dies on the operating table), he rushes to a dangerous assignment: To pick up a scientist who has been working on a bold experiment to create superhuman, indestructible soldiers, some of whom engage Lin and his colleagues in deadly battle. To end a brutal and futile shootout that devastates his law enforcement colleagues, Lin sacrifices himself to blow up the lead cyborg, and after the heavily-animated explosion engulfs the officer and his evil quarry, we see the girl’s now tattered stuffed animal near Lin’s own dying body.
You can see flashes of Chan’s late-career agility at play in this ridiculous and shoddily choreographed set piece, and if it’s more engaging than the actor’s dramatic stint in the recent political thriller The Foreigner, it’s not quite as much fun as last year’s Stanley Tong-directed Kung Fu Yoga (which also suffered from terrible CGI). Still, there’s a kind of thrilling operatic sensibility at work in Bleeding Steel, which packs a lot of action into its first 15 minutes.
And, guess what? Chan isn’t really dead; neither is his daughter. Flash-forward 13 years to the near future (in Sydney, Australia, for some reason). Nancy (Taiwanese pop star Na-Na OuYang) is a young college student with unusual fighting ability. She’s pursued by rival forces which include evil bionic goths and the goofy Leeson (Taiwanese pop star Show Lo), and is shadowed by a re-tooled Lin who struggles to protect her. Could Nancy be…his daughter?
With cartoonish villains who seem to have wandered in from a rogue superhero movie, the mixed milieus of police drama, sci-fi actioner, father-daughter relationship movie and special effects showcase don’t remotely come together. But as Bleeding Steel careens from one set piece to another, that shaky camerawork and fast pace helps you forget how vaguely drawn the characters are (even when Leeson’s interest in Nancy is finally spelled out, it’s barely worth a shrug).
You also begin to wonder if the shift to Australia was all for the benefit of using the Sydney Opera House as a backdrop. Yet that location essentially pays for itself, as the film’s central set piece has Lin battling a bionic woman on the precarious rooftop of that august cultural institution. Bleeding Steel isn’t a great Jackie Chan movie, but it’s at least a few notches better than The Nut Job 2.