Even in a summer that finds clever documentaries over-performing at the box office and ambitious newcomers like Boots Riley and Ari Aster redefining the perception of a blockbuster’s artistic limitations, this time of year reminds moviegoers of one inescapable truth: cinema is, first and foremost, a business. Rarely does a toothless cash grab come along that’s quite as imprudent as Bleeding Steel, Jackie Chan’s latest paycheck. Aimlessly shifting between jarring tones and recycled set pieces, this cheap science fiction clunker is more shamelessly money-hungry than an ad for a local furniture store, with about the same level of narrative consideration.
Through its bonkers setup alone, Bleeding Steel feels like a cocaine-fueled fever dream. Chan stars as Lin, a hardened special forces inspector in futuristic Hong Kong who specializes in locking up genetically-modified android criminals and “super bio-warriors.” Hot on a case to stop a band of mutant renegades (who may or may not be aliens) from stealing ill-explained state-of-the-art technology in order to create an army of super soldiers, he finds himself in the middle of a convoluted narrative that often feels like Michael Bay trying to recreate a David Lynch film, while also remaining true to the two-hour Audi commercial at its core.
Unfortunately, director Leo Zhang somehow manages to contort this goofy premise into a bland, run-of-the-mill crime drama. As ridiculous as its plot may be, nothing in Bleeding Steel is original, from its lazy video game cosplay production design to its generic script that lifts specific plot beats from other Jackie Chan movies. It’s as if the movie started out as a dream board that snipped out all of the least interesting aspects from a batch of Sci-Fi Channel original movies. For good measure, Zhang even throws in a couple of discount Star Wars knock-off spaceships.
The main selling point of most Jackie Chan movies is his seamless marriage of inventive martial arts and Chaplinesque physical comedy. However, even that falls flat here. Chan has famously done all of his own stunts throughout his career, but it’s curious that nearly every action sequence in this movie finds him in some sort of mask that obscures his face. However, whether or not he is actually the one kicking androids in the face, the movie has absolutely no problem taking a moment to revel in his massive ego.
Of course, there are certainly thrills to be found watching a man in his sixties display acrobatic grace in combat and scale the Sydney Opera House, but they are undercut by a clunky science fiction chase movie that goes from an attempted gang rape to painfully corny slapstick humor in the span of roughly thirty seconds. Leo Zhang was clearly trying to achieve something – whatever that may be – but he has failed spectacularly. Bleeding Steel is an absolute mess, almost impressively so.