There's nothing like summer to remind the world that film is primarily a business and a ruthless one at that. Each weekend offers a fresh batch of explosions, alien invasions, and car chases that compete for our attention and wallets. All that sound and fury isn't necessarily a recipe for a bad movie, but there's a special type of awful that only a summer blockbuster can achieve. Enter Bleeding Steel, a film so brazen in its desire to reach a wide audience that it plays like a compilation of disparate action set pieces, each shamelessly stolen from successful Hollywood franchises.
At the center of Leo Zhang's film is Jackie Chan, who rose to international fame by combining martial arts and slapstick comedy. But despite Chan's presence in nearly every scene, his casting feels like a cheap marketing ploy. Stunt work is a young person's game, and the actor can no longer completely shoulder the physical demands of a summer blockbuster. And so the film surrounds him with young talents who kick, duck, and dive through the endless fight sequences, pausing only to revel in Chan's cult of personality.
There's a scene 30 minutes into the action in which Chan's character, a police inspector named Lin Dong, works behind the counter at a fast food restaurant and wears a name tag that inexplicably reads “Jackie Chan.” The moment is self-serving and cloyingly cute, a cousin to that equally dubious scene in Ocean's Twelve in which Julia Roberts's Tess Ocean plays—you guessed it—Julia Roberts. Where Steven Soderbergh dared to get away with just one self-aggrandizing moment in that film, Bleeding Steel alludes to Chan's presence a handful of times throughout its 109 eye-bruising minutes.
The film revolves around the chase for a biochemical weapon that was surgically implanted into Chan's dying daughter (Nana Ou-Yang). It's a techno-thriller premise that would have been adequate enough, but the filmmakers throw into the mix a crew of evil cyborg soldiers who fly back and forth between Hong Kong and Sydney in their spaceship. Their technology doesn't appear to be that remarkable to Dong, his team, or the rest of the world—and it's unclear if that disinterest is intentional. Zhang's idea of establishing his sci-fi universe is to wait until the 45-minute mark before cutting to an insert of a brochure for the Sydney Opera House to finally confirm that the year is 2020. Perhaps that's all the time humans need to get used to the idea of murderous caped cyborgs unleashing havoc from the skies.
Nonetheless, it's impossible to completely write off Bleeding Steel. Watching the 64-year-old Chan dangle off the side of one of the Sydney Opera House's iconic shells is proof that the actor can still provoke awe with his stunt work. It's an authentically thrilling moment in an action film that adopts the philosophy that suspension of disbelief is given and not earned.