Movie Review – Bleeding Steel

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EXPECTATIONS: More Jackie Chan China-market garbage.

REVIEW: Can you believe that Jackie Chan is 63 years old? Time has gone by since his classic films like Police Story and Drunken Master and you wonder where has it all gone? But then you realize, not all that much has gone in terms of Chan’s dexterity. Even at his advanced age, he still makes plenty of action films like Kung Fu Yoga, Skiptrace and the recent film, The Foreigner, where he still shows his agile action chops.

But what has gone away is Chan’s lack of judgement, because most, if not ALL his film in the past nine years have been middling at best or incredibly awful at worst. Whether it’s the terrible filmmaking, the film patchwork China-committee scripts or just the lack of effort from everyone involved, his recent films are disappointing to say the least.

Speaking of disappointing, what was the last good science-fiction film from the Chinese market that was actually good? Aside from Battle of Memories (which also came out in 2017), it was possibly Stephen Chow’s CJ7, and that came out 9 years ago.

So now, we have Bleeding Steel, Jackie Chan’s first foray into the science-fiction genre. With two hints of disappointment, there is some hope. Filmed almost entirely in Sydney, Australia (my hometown), it was a bit of a big deal over here, especially with the action setpiece on top of the Sydney Opera House and with some Australian talent involved in front and behind the camera, the film might actually exceed expectations. Will it look like a well-executed sci-fi venture or will be a sci-fi venture that looks…executed?

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Jackie Chan stars as Lin Dong, a loving father (who of course, put a teddy bear under a seatbelt) and supercop (What else?) who is in charge of handling protection for Dr. James (Kim Gyngell), a scientist specializing in “bioroid” soldiers, who is on the run from one of these hybrid mercenaries, Andre (Callan Mulvey), one of his experiments gone wrong. Lin is on his way to see his young daughter Xixi, who’s dying from leukemia (that’s what it said in the English subtitles), when he’s called to rescue James from an ambush led by Andre and his cronies.

When it spectacularly goes wrong, 13 years pass (where some characters don’t age a day, apparently) and we see Nancy (Taiwanese teen idol-cellist Nana Ouyang), a Chinese girl raised in an orphanage, who is tormented by nightmares of a past life, interspersed with visions of a beating full-metal heart. She seeks advice first from a witch doctor, then a hypnotist and so on (consisting of people dressed up like rejects of Pirates of the Caribbean).

And every time she goes on these errands, Leeson (Show Lo) a thief is always on her trail to lend a hand. The two stories eventually go hand-in-hand and it becomes an all-out showdown between Lin Dong and Andre, with Nancy and Leeson into the mix.

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To get the jist of where this review is going, Jackie Chan is credited as “Excetutive Producer” [sic] in the opening credits of Bleeding Steel. That pretty much tells you the amount of effort that went into this film, because Bleeding Steel is one of the worst films, not only of 2017, but in Jackie Chan’s career. Yes, even worse than the execrable Kung Fu Yoga.

Let’s begin with the positives. The opening action scene is actually well-executed. The action choreography of the shootouts, along with the Hollywood-like editing and the professional use of pyrotechnics are well-done and it promises to be a good start for the film, at least from an action stand-point.

And that is it for the positives, because the rest is just putrefying garbage. The action scenes are incredibly underwhelming and furiously edited to the point that it becomes exhausting rather than exciting. The highly-anticipated action scene set on top of the Sydney Opera House is hugely disappointing due to the routine fight choreography, the distracting green screen and the sloppy direction from Leo Zhang. Having the camera closer to see the performers would be nice, but little to that type of invention rarely ever happens.

It also doesn’t help that none of the supporting actors who play the villains are actual martial artists nor they are a decent compliment to Jackie Chan himself. It just feels rote, even with the supposed one-take action sequence in the climax involving three opponents.

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And now we get to the comedy. It is quite apparent that infantile, low-brow comedy is one of the hallmarks for the China-market and Bleeding Steel is no exception. But even by China-market standards, this is just god-awful.

And as expected, the strong xenophobia is back.  If you think Australians were portrayed horribly in Jackie Chan films like First Strike and Mr. Nice Guy, you should see Bleeding Steel. Apparently, every Australian in the film is either a rapist (every man in the slum Nancy visits wants to rape her), a racist (a Uni student claims she doesn’t understand Chinglish), a bully, an idiot, an insane person, (a TV reporter sounds like she’s having a stroke) a killer, a thief or even Australians playing foreigners, badly. But hey, what do I know about people in Australia? I was only born there.

The story is treated with utmost seriousness, but the film is always pummeled to the ground with unfunny comedy, and the main culprit for that is Show Lo. Despite proving to have solid comedic chops in Stephen Chow films like Journey to the West: Conquering the Demons and The Mermaid, in Bleeding Steel he is an incredibly annoying presence that you just want Jackie to break his neck.

His introduction into the film involves crossdressing and implying to go down under a man from Down Under. And boy, it only gets worse from there. Another comedic setpiece involves Lo fighting slum-residing rapists (who happen to know parkour because every person who lives in the slums knows parkour) with his belt, doing a terrible Bruce Lee impression with his pants down.

There are unfunny references to Jackie Chan himself despite the fact that he’s in the damn film! There’s even a scene where Nancy punches out a uni girl (that’s exactly how the actress is credited, no joke) for saying racist things and Lo praises her as a credit to the Chinese. You can’t get any worse than this.

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Other than Show Lo, the supporting cast are nothing to write about. Nana Ouyang (known as a talented cellist) has a charming presence but she isn’t much of an actress due to her wooden delivery while Erica Xia-hou gives a bland performance as the superfluous cop partner of Lin Dong, who presumably is in the film because she’s a co-writer of the script.

Tess Haubrich (famous for Australian TV shows Home and Away and the upcoming second season of Wolf Creek) is stuck with a bad European accent while looking like a mix of Jessica Chastain from Mama and Asia Argento. She does her best with her action scenes and the role but the terrible script and sloppy direction let her down.

And last and definitely the least, there’s Callan Mulvey as the main villain, Andre. Last seen in Beyond Skyline in a likable role as a doctor and Batman v Superman as an okay villain, in Bleeding Steel, he just looks laughably bad in his make-up that you almost feel sorry for him. Every Australian actor is directed so terribly and given such risible dialogue, that you almost think they’re being forced to be on camera at gunpoint, like that Barnaby Joyce video with Johnny Depp and Amber Heard.

But wait, there’s also the story, which is completely patched up with parts of other Hollywood films, which strangely enough, the filmmakers chose to plagiarize G.I Joe – The Rise of Cobra, of all things. And the drama is incredibly mishandled, with a dramatic character reveal so obvious that even a coma victim could figure it out. And there are so many details in the film that are so stupid or inexplicable that it’s hard to believe that there ever was a script to begin with.

Why is there a well of lava on the spaceship? How does transferring blood transfer memories? Why aren’t there police around the Sydney Opera House when there is a major commotion? Can costumes be susceptible to gas? How does Leeson escape many situations that guarantee death? Why is the covert found footage in the video camera filmed like a documentary, complete with narration? Oh God, my head hurts!

Speaking of head injuries, the costumes for the bioroids (more like hemorrhoids) look incredibly cheap (there’s a scene where Lo plays with the broken visor that looks like an outtake shoved in the film) and the CGI (for a budget that is apparently the highest budget for a Chinese film set in Australia) and make-up prosthetics look so ghastly that the film looks it belongs in the SyFy channel. There’s even obvious CGI water where characters are swimming in the ocean.

To think that the best thing in the film is the end credits (and no, not because the film ended) because Jackie sings the Police Story theme song in Mandarin. Okay, you got me, it’s because the film ended. Bleeding Steel is just one big pile of awfulness that it becomes shockingly funny. Unlike Kung Fu Yoga, the quality of the film is so low that you can invite your mates for a drinking night to watch the film and you’ll be guaranteed fits of laughter. And in the case of blockbusters by Jackie Chan, we’ll take what we can get.

But what people will not get is the Jackie Chan magic. There’s a scene in the film where Chan fights opponents with props from a magic show that is quite amusing, but unfortunately, there is too little of it and it just fades away. And like Jackie Chan himself, the magic is gone and that is no laughing matter.

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Quickie Review

PROS

The first action scene is quite good

Many unintentionally funny moments

CONS

Too damn many to mention

SCORE: 2/10

Cast: Jackie Chan, Show Lo, Nana Ouyang, Erica Xia-Hou, Callan Mulvey, Tess Haubrich, Kim Gyngell
Director: Leo Zhang
Screenwriters: Leo Zhang, Erica Xia-Hou, Siwei Cui

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So-Bad-It’s-Rad Review – Knock Off

EXPECTATIONS: A laughably unmitigated disaster that could end JCVD’s career.

REVIEW: Man, where do I start off with this movie? First off, I am a huge Van Damme fan. From the humble beginnings of Breakin’ to his awesome leading role in Bloodsport to his biggest box-office hit, Timecop, his big legs (and karate) showed he could do the splits, no problem. (Hope someone gets that reference). But after Timecop, his films started to dwindle from flop after flop to the point he went to the straight-to-video hell (which it was back then, not as reviled as it is now). But there was one film that always fascinated me of how much it stood out in his entire filmography due to its surrealism, energy and style. Plus, it’s also hilariously bad, but I swear, some of its supposedly bad moments had to be intentional. That film is Knock Off, by Hong Kong director Tsui Hark. Is it unfairly reviled? Pfft, hell no. But if you see it as a knock off of a Hong Kong film aping a Hollywood film, then it can be seen as downright hilarious, if unintentional, entertainment.

Set in 1997 Hong Kong before the Handover, Marcus Ray (Jean-Claude Van Damme) and Tommy Hendricks (Rob Schneider) are business partners of the Hong Kong division of V-Six Jeans. Marcus used to be the number one guy in selling knock offs in Hong Kong and Tommy is actually a CIA agent set on bringing down arms dealers. The two are later embroiled and mixed up in a ongoing war between the Chinese, the Russians and the Americans involving global terrorism that can be set off using a new weapon of mass destruction the size of a watch battery, which can be concealed in household products, even children’s toys.

Yes, the story sounds hilariously ridiculous. Rob Schneider as a CIA agent? Jean-Claude Van Damme as a knock-off artist? How can you take this film seriously? Thankfully, director Tsui Hark doesn’t and he compensates for the crummy and convoluted story A LOT with energy, surrealism and style. The pacing is incredibly fast, getting into the action almost immediately. Even the dialogue scenes are imbued with weird angles and shots (dutch, POV, extreme close ups, jump cuts), that it makes the film seem like a dream. And the action scenes are set up in such a unfamiliar manner, it is refreshing and thrilling to watch. Like a fight scene in a parking lot. It could have been easily a generic one-against-many fight scene, but Tsui makes Van Damme seem more like a horror villain chasing its victims than an action hero defeating his enemies. The blurs, the under-cranking, the music, the camera angles are just so unorthodox, it’s a thrill to watch. He’s also aware that he’s making a “knock off” film, so he subverts action cliches like the CIA agent is the comic relief whilst the knock-off artist is the action star and how there are no damsels-in-distress and many more.

Now you’re probably wondering from reading the above is that I’m legitimately praising the film. So where’s the bad? First of all, there’s Van Damme’s performance. It’s a well-known fact that during the 90’s, Van Damme was going through a drug phase, mainly cocaine and in 1998, he was diagnosed with bipolar disorder. Does this come through in his performance? You bet it does. From the first scene his character appears, I was laughing my ass off. Singing a very famous Hong Kong song, driving a car, being so animated and carefree, I knew that Van Damme was not going to give a typical heroic performance. His portrayal of Marcus Ray suits the surrealistic direction of Tsui Hark that they compliment each other really well, particularly in terms of the action scenes. But his performance can be so embarrassing at times, with the lines of dialogue he spouts out with glee like “We are locked to win, my buddy!” or “I like to keep my reputation intact. I always like to make a quality piece of crap!” that never fails to make me laugh, considering the latter line, Van Damme’s reputation is still intact.

The supporting cast are also hysterically awful. Rob Schneider is Rob Schneider, Lela Rochon is like a pornstar trying to play a Bond girl (and it’s as bad as it sounds) and Paul Sorvino is slumming it big time. But funnily enough, their performances are not entirely their fault. First of all, this is definitely a Hong Kong film, despite the predominantly American cast and crew. So, for some weird reason, 95% of the dialogue in the film is dubbed via ADR. In the early Hong Kong films through the 90’s, films were predominantly dubbed, not shot in sync-sound. So in the film Knock Off, Tsui Hark decided to replicate that feel and again, it makes the performances hilariously off-kilter, particularly the Hong Kong actors. Usually, in Hong Kong films, it’s the foreign actors (or gweilos) that come off as hilariously bad in their films. But in Knock Off, Tsui Hark reverses that and makes the Hong Kong actors seem like they had head injuries with horrific dubbing, especially the performance from Wyman Wong as Eddie. His last scene made me spit my drink in hysterics.

Speaking of hysterics, there are many fantastically hilarious or strange moments that I just have to bring up. One action scene is a rickshaw race. And it is in this race, there’s a POV shot from a knock-off shoe Van Damme is wearing that happens to break up during the race. I have no idea why, but again it adds to the surrealism. Another shot during the race is when a car runs over a miniature rickshaw. I get why it is there, but again, it’s just so strange. At one point, Rob Schneider whips Van Damme’s ass with an eel to make him go faster. Yes, it’s that kind of movie. But wait, there’s more! One person hysterically (and it’s meant to be tragic) dies via missile. Ever wonder what it’s like to see a scared fat guy run in slow motion? It’s as funny as it sounds. There’s even a POV shot off a person’s neck being cut by a knife. Like, wow! They really thought of everything. There’s a laughable villain death in the climax that makes it look like he’s having an orgasm before he dies in an explosion. There’s also a villain who uses his lenses from his glasses (knock-off?) as a weapon!

I don’t want to reveal anymore, but if you are an adventurous person who wants to watch a different type of action film or just want to laugh at hilariously bad or weird shit going on, Knock Off is definitely not a Wrong Bet. Get that reference? Okay, it’s not funny, but maybe this will convince you…

Cast: Jean-Claude Van Damme, Rob Schneider, Lela Rochon, Paul Sorvino, Carmen Lee, Wyman Wong, Glen Chin, Michael Fitzgerald Wong, Moses Chan
Director: Tsui Hark
Screenwriters: Steven E. De Souza