Action movies are typically a young man’s game. Sure, you can cheat a little bit by having older actors engage in gun battles and high-speed chases, but audiences are going to expect the hero to do a little bit of running and eventually fight the bad guy hand-to-hand. Old-man running and fighting looks distinctly different than how young men do it. Just look at Harrison Ford, Arnold Schwarzenegger, and even Keanu Reeves. I’m sure the mind is willing, but their bodies are resisting – and it’s obvious to moviegoers. This problem is doubly impactful for action performers like Jackie Chan whose brand of entertainment is pulling off amazing stunts and performing high-skill choreographed martial arts. Sometimes the best decision an actor can make is to give up the lead role and usher in a new generation. Unfortunately, I don’t think Chan is ready to do that yet.
In Bleeding Steel, Lin Dong (Jackie Chan) is a special forces agent who has a young daughter that is dying of leukemia. He’s also tasked with protecting a doctor who has developed a new technology that could be used to create super soldiers. While evacuating the doctor, Lin and his team are interrupted by a paramilitary force led by Andre (Callan Mulvey), and they are determined to take the doctor. Lin manages to thwart their efforts, but that doesn’t stop Andre from trying to capture the technology again 13 years later. This time, however, Andre has a score to settle with Lin.
Anyone who is a fan of action movies in general and martial arts films in particular has a special fondness for Jackie Chan. His action sequences were often extended, death-defying, and made creative use of the environment. Knowing that he performed his own stunts added a level of veritas that was difficult to find in western films. I remember watching a bootleg Rumble in the Bronx at a friend’s place with my jaw on the floor when the action started. So, when Rush Hour came out, my heart swelled with pride when the audience I watched the movie marveled at Chan’s talent. But, that was 1998, and Chan was already 44. Now that we’re 20 years later, a 64-year-old Chan just isn’t as compelling to watch.
Perhaps I’m being unfair by judging Chan based on this film, which isn’t up to par in general with his better-known works. Not every film of his needs to be an “event”, and maybe he just needs to work, which is why this subpar film exists. Nevertheless, he’s not getting any younger, and I don’t think we’ll see anything approaching his former glory given his age.
Bleeding Steel does Chan no favors. Not only is the title weird (or at least creates different expectations than what we get), but the entire film feels conflicted between grounded action-drama and bonkers sci-fi. When the villain is introduced, he walks in looking like he got lost on the way to the Star Wars set. The bottom half of his face is covered in black makeup and he wears a hooded cloak for some reason. His cohorts look even more futuristic with their light-up face shields, black armor, and high-velocity firearms. Later, we see that their base looks more like a low-orbit Star Destroyer than an aircraft. The movie needed to pick a lane and stay in it because this strange compromise didn’t work.
From the beginning, the movie strains belief. Lin gets a call that his young daughter is about to die and that he needs to get to the hospital as soon as possible. After making a superhuman effort that involves almost running over pedestrians, Lin parks outside the hospital only to get a call from his superior that he’s needed on a special mission. Rather than tell his boss to go to hell, Lin agrees, exchanging the last moments of his daughter’s life for a few more minutes on the clock. Unbelievable!
The plot doesn’t get much better after that. Soon the movie has Lin following a young girl named Nancy (Na-Na OuYang) for reasons that are drip-fed to audiences via periodic flashbacks. Nancy has nightmares that lead her to visit a witch and a hypnotist adding even more disparate elements to an already incoherent film. Yet, personally, I wasn’t turned off by any of this. The fact that the film was dubbed kept reminding me that this movie was made for Chinese audiences, so I just accepted that certain aspects would be out of sync with my tastes.
Unfortunately, the action is lacking. There are no great set pieces here that audiences will want to look up later on YouTube to show their friends. Some of the sequences even obfuscate Lin’s face with a mask. No doubt it’s to hide the face of a stuntman doing the heavy lifting for Chan. Seeing the lack of enjoyable action, I realized that Jackie Chan films don’t really work without it. If you remove Chan’s amazing physical feats, then all you’re left with is a corny movie that’s probably made for a foreign audience. And that’s no way to convince American audiences to turn out.