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  Bleeding Steel Jackie Chan does cyberpunk!
Year: 2017
Director: Leo Zhang
Stars: Jackie Chan, Na-Na Ouyang, Show Lo, Callan Mulvey, Tess Haubrich, Damien Garvey, Erica Xia-Hou, Kim Gyngell, Ellie Poussot, Olga Miller, Gillian Jones, Brahim Achabbakhe, Kaitlin Boyé, Diana Hübel, David Torok, Scarlett Koehne, Isabelle Wojciechowska
Genre: Action, Martial Arts, Science Fiction, Fantasy, AdventureBuy from Amazon
Rating:  6 (from 1 vote)
Review: Special agent Lin (Jackie Chan) is speeding to the hospital where his leukemia-riddled little girl Xi Xi lies in critical condition when summoned for an urgent mission. Reluctantly he puts duty above his daughter's life to lead a crack squad, including trusted partner Susan (Erica Xia-Hou), protecting genius scientist Dr. James (Kim Gyngell). The latter is the inventor behind a top secret mechanical heart and bio-engineered blood with super-regenerative properties. Now sought by the doctor's original test subject: Andrew (Callan Mulvey), a freakish albino mutant with super-powers, who attacks with his army of hi-tech stormtroopers. In a chaotic battle Lin barely escapes with the scientist leaving Andrew even more horribly disfigured and vowing revenge. Worse yet his daughter dies alone.

Thirteen years later Leeson (Show Lo), a smart-alec online 'hacktivist', poses as a hooker in drag (!) in order to steal a data file from Rick Rogers (Damien Garvey), author of a best-seller exposing the so-called 'Bleeding Steel' project. Unfortunately a hit squad of stormtroopers crash Leeson's heist led by Andrew's vicious dominatrix-styled henchwoman, the Woman in Black (Tess Haubrich). Out of nowhere Lin lands at the scene using gadgets and kick-ass moves to take down the bad guys while Leeson makes his getaway. When Leeson decodes the file he is puzzled to find only pictures of Nancy (Na-Na Ouyang), a young woman whom he discovers leading a lonely life in Australia at a fancy international school. There Lin watches over her incognito, posing as a kindly cafeteria worker. Haunted by strange dreams, Nancy consults a witch (Gillian Jones) to unearth details about her mysterious past only to wind up hunted by laser-wielding stormtroopers. Which prompts Lin to take action.

Jackie Chan tries his hand at cyberpunk in this special effects-laden sci-fi action-adventure. Conveived by sophomore writer-director Leo Zhang, Bleeding Steel upholds an old Hong Kong movie tradition in lifting elements from multiple Hollywood sources to fashion something bonkers, eccentric, absurd but fun. Scattered scenes riff on the Marvel movies, specifically Iron Man (2008) and Avengers Assemble (2012) though also certain motifs familiar from Sam Raimi's Spider-Man films, along with latter-day Steven Spielberg and by far most blatantly Star Wars: The Force Awakens (2015). Callan Mulvey's cyborg super-mutant is styled exactly like a Sith lord, surrounded by stormtroopers and inexplicably travels inside a mile-long Star Destroyer-look-alike spaceship – with no explanation how he got all this space age tech. While purists predictably heaped disdain on Bleeding Steel, with some critics labeling the film his worst yet (have they not seen The Spy Next Door (2010)?), only the truly joyless would not take delight in watching Jackie engage in an actual laser fight, take on costumed super-villains and leap out of an exploding spaceship. It is kind of a blast seeing the clown prince of kung fu in a big-budget science fiction film.

Zhang's slick direction ensures the action flows well while in spite of his advancing years Chan still has the moves. A delightful albeit too brief sequence where he uses a stage magician's props to fend off villains in cyber-suits recalls the sprightly Jackie Chan of old while the film is worth watching just for the big centre-piece where he slides down the Sydney Opera house. Much like the unstable energy source subplot in Who Am I? (1998), Bleeding Steel's big sci-fi MacGuffin of Nancy's bio-engineered blood is mere narrative glue binding a typically wayward plot through sundry breakneck set-pieces. Yet the film makes some imaginative use of the idea and, as illustrated by Dr. James' lecture, Zhang clearly put some thought into his concept. Although deeply sentimental the father-daughter relationship is not without charm. It provides a solid and much needed emotional spine. Where the film falters is down to Zhang's ham-fisted storytelling which often trips up his own attempts to fashion a mystery and his unintentionally comical attempts to fashion an 'edgy' dystopian future. While Bleeding Steel has an emphasis on risque content unusual in a Jackie Chan film, including throwaway sex jokes and Show Lo posing as a transvestite hooker in furs, pink wig and lingerie, the results tip into absurdity. Also problematic are some xenophobic undertones. The only positive characters in the movie are Chinese while almost every foreigner is portrayed as a psycho, criminal or bullying racist. As is often the case with western actors employed in Chinese productions, the supporting cast prove a liability. For the most part their performances are comic book in the worst sense. However Irish actress Tess Haubrich, also in Alien: Covenant (2017), is an imposing presence as anime-styled dominatrix. In all fairness real-life musical prodigy turned teen idol Na-Na Ouyang proves more capable acting in Mandarin in scenes opposite Jackie than interacting with her fellow students in English. Meanwhile pretty-boy pop idol Show Lo shoulders most of what passes for humour as a frankly charmless comic relief. His one amusing moment sees him attempt to mimic Lin's kung fu only to be told: "Who do you think you are? Jackie Chan?"

Despite the odd lull, Bleeding Steel is never less than watchable and occasionally beguiling in its near-childlike willingness to abandon logic for the sake of a rollicking fun time. The third act cranks up the Star Wars parallels to a ludicrous degree and is all the more entertaining for it. And for nostalgists, Jackie even sings the theme song from Police Story (1985) over the end credit out-takes!


Reviewer: Andrew Pragasam

 

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