The latest effort to give Chinese chopsocky action a sci-fi makeover, “Bleeding Heart” stars Jackie Chan as a special agent trying to protect his daughter from biotech mutants. Efficiently directed by Leo Zhang, the film features all the zesty fights, slick effects and goofy slapstick one expects from a Jackie Chan family movie, while glossy production values, a snappy beat and composer Peng Fei’s deafening score mimic that of a Hollywood movie, though the film’s corny cyberpunk pastiche appeals exclusively to kids.
Coming third in domestic B.O. behind Feng Xiaogang’s ’70s epic “Youth” and Chen Kaige’s supernatural fantasy “Legend of the Demon Cat,” the film — co-written by Zhang, Cui Siwei and Xiaohou Yunshan (who also has a bland supporting role) — can expect Chan’s international fan base to contribute to more earnings when it releases abroad, with particular appeal in Australia, since a good portion was shot in Sydney.
Chan plays Lin Dong, a Chinese special agent in charge of the “witness protection plan” for Dr. James (Kim Gyngell), a scientist specializing in “bioroid” soldiers on the run from one of these hybrid mercenaries, Andre (Callan Mulvey), one of his experiments gone wrong — a sort of Frankenstein’s monster who mutated due to radiation exposure. Lin is on his way to see his young daughter Xixi, who’s dying from heart failure, when he’s called to rescue James from an ambush led by Andre.
Andre, who resembles Nosferatu in a Darth Vader suit, leads a squad of bioroids whose uniforms suggest “Star Wars” Stormtroopers, except in black. Though these troops look ridiculous, the ensuing shootout — which takes place on dirty, rain-drenched Chinese streets — is captured with a dynamism that combines Hong Kong-style knockout combat with Hollywood fast pacing and Korean caliber pyrotechnics. In one of many science-defying scenarios, Lin survives an explosion like the one that razed central Tianjin to the ground.
Thirteen years later, Australian writer Rick Rodgers (Damien Garvey) publishes a book on a mutated human girl with heightened physical powers, provoking two women in kinkily outlandish garb to sneak into his hotel suite in an effort to steal the manuscript. One (Tess Haubrich) coerces him with flying daggers, while the other (Taiwanese pop-star Show Lo, dressed like a drag version of Uma Thurman in “Pulp Fiction”) seduces him using plastic boobs. Their efforts, however, are foiled by Lin, entering the fray “Mission Impossible”-style, making for a thrillingly vicious fight, for those who can look past its visual and tonal incongruity.
Meanwhile, Nancy (Taiwanese teen idol-cellist Ouyang Nana), a Chinese girl raised in an orphanage, 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 gets into various scuffles. Each time, Leeson (the guy who wore drag to steal Rodgers’ data) is nearby to lend a hand.
Although the screenplay strains to keep Nancy’s identity a mystery, it’s obvious long before the actual reveal that she’s the once-ailing Xixi, resuscitated by a cybernetic heart (à la heroine of Luc Besson’s “Lucy”). Though she is sprightly enough in scenes when her self-defense reflex is triggered, it’s a pity she doesn’t evolve into a more exhilarating heroine (maybe the production is saving that for a sequel) — which means it falls on Chan to do the heavy-lifting in the key action scenes.
Since the star is no spring chicken, the team has to design set pieces that don’t overstretch him physical abilities, such as a scene set on the roof of the Sydney Opera House, which evokes Chan’s famous slide down Rotterdam’s Willemswerf Building in “Who Am I” — though a lot more effects are used to enhance the stunt than he required 19 years ago. The same goes for another high-altitude plunge: The thrill is still there, though we’re robbed of the sense of risk.
Playing yet another concerned father in relatively close proximity to “The Foreigner,” which opened just a few months ago, the increasingly haggard Chan comes across cheerless in dramatic mode. At 63, he’s better off playing young Xixi’s grandpa, and despite an all-out schmaltzy reunion, he and Ouyang look awkward together.
Lo provides the comic relief that Chan once dispensed so readily. Having played a handsome narcissist who ends up making a fool of himself in Stephen Chow’s “Journey to the West: Conquering the Demons” and “Mermaid,” Lo has developed a blundering smart-aleck persona that works unexpectedly well opposite Chan’s leaden earnestness, while slyly undermining the over-the-top robotic villains, including the one-dimensional Andre.