China/Hong Kong, 2017, colour, 2.35:1, 3-D (China only), 108 mins.
Director: Zhang Lijia 张立嘉.
A routine, tired-looking re-run of the Cheng Long [Jackie Chan] international action formula.
Xin’gan [Hsinkan] city, 2007. On the same evening as his young daughter Lin Xixi is dying in hospital from leukaemia, UN Special Forces agent Lin Dong (Cheng Long) is told there’s been a security breach in the witness-protection scheme for James, a geneticist who was previously working on biochemical weapons for a Korean arms dealer when a bioroid he’d created ran amok, killing the arms dealer. While Lin and his deputy Su Shan (Xiaohou Yunshan) are transferring James to a secure military base, they’re attacked by Andre (Callan Mulvey), the faulty bioroid, and barely escape alive. Thirteen years later, Aug 2020, in Sydney, Australia, local novelist Rick Rogers (Damien Garvey) is promoting his new book Bleeding Steel, about a US soldier who dies from nuclear radiation but is turned into a bioroid warrior. Rick Rogers is attacked in his flat by a woman in black (Tess Haubrich), who wants to know where he got the plot from. Li Dong appears and fights her off but, after admitting he stole the story from someone, Rick Rogers dies. Meanwhile, another secret agent, Li Sen (Luo Zhixiang), who entered the flat earlier disguised as a call-girl, downloads Rick Rogers’ computer files and escapes. The woman in black works for Andre who circles the world in a spaceship and has vowed vengeance on Lin Dong for almost killing him 13 years ago. Meanwhile, Nancy (Ouyang Na’na), a Chinese student at the Royal Sydney Institute of Technology, has been having worsening nightmares in which she’s involved in some kind of laboratory experiment. Both Lin Dong and Li Sen have separately been keeping watch on her and Li Sen follows her to a spiritualist (Gillian Jones) whom she’s seeing for her nightmares. As she’s leaving, he rescues her from some lecherous youths and surreptitiously finds she has a rendezvous at Sydney Opera House where an illusionist (Cosentino) is rehearsing. Andre’s enforcer appears and tries to kidnap Nancy but is finally beaten off by Lin Dong while Li Sen takes care of Nancy. Lin Dong, who calls Nancy “my daughter”, takes her home to rest and imprisons Li Sen in his basement armoury. Lin Dong hears from Su Shan that the spiritualist had been selling audio files of Nancy’s sessions to Rick Rogers. When Lin Dong visits the spiritualist, he finds her dead; and when he returns home, he finds Nancy gone. Learning she’s taken a flight to Xin’gan, he follows, leaving Li Sen to fend for himself.
A routine re-run of the international action formula that Cheng Long 成龙 [Jackie Chan] has been peddling for 30 years – foreign location, setpieces on landmarks, local Chinese, western villains – Bleeding Steel 机器之血 is a tired-looking vehicle for the 63-year-old Hong Kong superstar that’s kept going only by some okay, if hardly memorable, action. With just decent Mainland box office of some RMB300 million in its first 10 days, the film is Cheng’s weakest-performing star vehicle since the beginning of the decade and way down on his three other films (Railroad Tigers 铁道飞虎, 2016; KungFu Yoga 功夫瑜伽, 2017; The Foreigner 英伦对决, 2017) released during the past 12 months.
The man calling “Cut!” this time is Hebei-born singer-writer-director Zhang Lijia 张立嘉, whose period Shanghai crime movie Chrysanthemum to the Beast 给野兽献花 (2012), starring Cheng’s son Fang Zuming 房祖名 [Jaycee Chan], flopped with a mere RMB7 million. Zhang brings nothing new to the formula and his script – co-written with Hunan-born dancer-turned-actress Xiahou Yunshan 夏侯云姗 (who was also in Chrysanthemum under the name Xiahou Qiyu 夏侯琪誉, and here plays Cheng’s sidekick) and Cui Siwei 崔斯韦 (Love in Cosmo 摇摆de婚约, 2010; No Man’s Land 无人区, 2013) – simply proceeds from setpiece to setpiece with minimal characterisation inbetween and a risible plot about bioroids that’s pasted together from other sci-fi movies.
As a UN Special Forces cop involved in saving his daughter (Taiwan cellist-turned-actress Ouyang Na’na 欧阳娜娜) from a manic bioroid-gone-wrong (New Zealand actor-stuntman Callan Mulvey), Cheng gives a reasonable showing in the carefully-tailored setpieces – including on the roof of the Sydney Opera House – but with little trademark humour this time round. On the nasties’ side, it’s Australian model-turned-actress Tess Haubrich (Alien: Covenant, 2017) who steals much of the show whenever she appears like a punky Darth Vader, though she’s disappointingly not given a grand exit. Mulvey spits and snarls okay under heavy bioroid make-up as the villain who has his own spaceship.
On the goodies’ side, Xiahou is solid as the faithful sidekick to Cheng’s UN cop and good enough in action bits, while Taiwan actor-singer Luo Zhixiang 罗志祥 (the octopus in Mermaid 美人鱼, 2016) is terminally annoying as the light relief, in a part Cheng himself could have played 30 years ago. As the student daughter, cute 17-year-old Ouyang (Beautiful Accident 美好的意外, 2017; All about Secrets 秘果, 2017) is initially built up as a feisty character, punching women on the nose and kicking men between the legs, but isn’t allowed to follow through on it.
Technical credits are OK without being top drawer, and the action is at its best in the long finale in the spaceship, where handheld camerawork and longer takes bring a fresh feel to some sections. The film’s Chinese title translates as “Machine Blood”. Aside from in Sydney, shooting was also in Beijing and Taiwan.
Presented by Heyi Pictures (CN), Wanda Media (CN), Perfect Village Entertainment HK (HK), Jetsen Cultural Industry Group (CN), Beijing TUS Film & Television Media (CN), Dadi Century (Beijing) (CN), Tianjin FunHigh Film (CN).
Script: Zhang Lijia, Xiahou Yunshan, Cui Siwei. Photography: Zhang Dongliang [Tony Cheung], Jian Liwei. Editing: Kuang Zhiliang, Zhang Lijia. Music: Peng Fei. Production design: Huang Meiqing. Art direction: Jan Edwards (Australia). Costume design: Xu Liwen. Sound: Zhao Jiaming. Action: JC Stunt Team. Car stunts: Luo Lixian [Bruce Law].
Cast: Cheng Long [Jackie Chan] (Lin Dong), Luo Zhixiang (Li Sen/Leeson/Choi Gyeong-ho), Ouyang Na’na (Nancy), Xiahou Yunshan (Su Shan/Susan), Callan Mulvey (Andre, bioroid), Tess Haubrich (Andre’s enforcer, woman in black), Kim Gyngell (James, doctor), Damien Garvey (Rick Rogers), Gillian Jones (spiritualist), Sammy the Dwarf (spiritualist’s assistant), Cosentino (himself, illusionist), Anna Cheney (TV interviewer).
Release: China, 22 Dec 2017; Hong Kong, 28 Dec 2017.