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TSM Movie Review: Bulletproof Monk

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Starring Chow Yun-Fat, Seann William Scott, and Jamie King.

Written by Ethan Reiff and Cyrus Voris

Directed by Paul Hunter

Rated PG-13; 104 minutes


A stream of kinetic, haphazardly-edited clichés and stereotypes, Bulletproof Monk is another example of Hollywood completely wasting the talents of a Hong Kong action star.


The Monk With No Name (Chow Yun-Fat) is the sworn protector of a mystical scroll that grants its guardian virtual immortality, and access to incredible power. He soon encounters slacker pickpocket Kar (Seann William Scott), who manages to relieve him of the scroll. Kar quickly runs afoul of a local underground gang run by the farcically-named Mr. Funktastic (Marcus J. Pirae). He immediately becomes enamored of Mr. Funktastic’s chop-socky paramour, Jade (Jamie King), and fights both her and the big man himself while The Monk watches (and recovers the scroll).


The Monk sees something in Kar, whom he begins following and trying to teach. Meanwhile, elderly Nazi Strucker (Karel Roden) lusts after the scroll, with the assistance of his granddaughter Nina (Victoria Smurfit). Using Nina’s position with the Human Rights Organization, the pair send hired goons out to recover the scroll and The Monk. Every time, they magically know where our heroes are, which becomes old the first time it happens. This doesn’t stop the movie from continuing to insult the audience’s intelligence, however.


After plowing though a temple of other Buddhist monks, the Nazis finally get their hands on The Monk and try to learn the secrets of the scroll. Despite not knowing if he’s cut out to learn from The Monk, Kar goes to find him, enlisting Jade (who immediately knows where the evil hideout is), who then enlists Mr. Funktastic and his gang. If this sounds like a train wreck so far, that’s because it is. Strucker has a final battle with The Monk and Kar before the world is saved and everyone lives happily ever after.


I have a lot of problems with Bulletproof Monk. The easiest way to list them is simply to go ahead and make the laundry list.


1. The Monk is a caricature, not a character, and a walking set of clichés. His dialog is referred to in the movie as “fortune cookies,” and it is. Hollywood has turned wise Oriental men into the guys who stuff pieces of paper into fragile cookies at Chinese restaurants. Watching Chow Yun-Fat in this movie is as difficult as watching Jackie Chan in almost all of his American movies: they are trivialized and misused by a Hollywood that doesn’t understand what they bring to the table. Like Chan, Yun-Fat has ended up as the wise, enlightened foil to an impetuous idiot; at least it’s a role in which his understated smile serves better than Chan’s big goofy grin.


2. The path to enlightenment is obscenely quick in this film. Kar has apparently learned to fight with some degree of skill, all by working as the projectionist in a Chinese movie theatre. And while The Monk has spent sixty years guarding the scroll and learning to work with its power, Strucker reads it ONCE and becomes just as ageless and just as strong. Bulletproof Monk does a good job mocking the discipline required to take up any lifelong pursuit.


3. The direction of the fight scenes is terrible, with far too many close-ups and quick edits. Considering this is director Paul Hunter’s first feature film, after years of directing music videos, it’s understandable. It’s still careless, lazy, and unforgivable, but it is understandable.


4. Editing in general in the movie is very quick, leading to a choppy viewing experience.


5. The villains always know where the heroes are, even when they take great care to hide. At the end, of course, the roles are reversed, proving that “what goes around, comes around” holds true, even in the context of the cosmically ridiculous.


6. The bad science fiction is really bad. Strucker has some kind of torture device that doubles as a mind reader by poking holes in people’s heads and running a lot of water. At one point, he uses this to find The Monk and Kar, getting the information from a character who had no idea where they were.


7. John Woo has a producing credit on Bulletproof Monk, but it’s obvious he had nothing to do with the movie past that. The scene in the trailer, when The Monk is spinning in the air, coat flaring and twin automatic pistols blazing, in an obvious homage to Yun-Fat’s past work with Woo. If this is the best Hollywood is going to offer them, I’d love to see them team up again. The Killer and A Better Tomorrow are all the evidence needed of the movie magic that can come from that pairing.


8. All the characters are clichés. There's the Wise, Learned Oriental Master, the Slacker Who Finds His Calling, the Tough Girl Who's Really Lovable, and, of course, the Evil Nazis Hellbent On World Domination. I can't think of a lazier exercise in script writing.


You might want to see Bulletproof Monk if you’re a Chow Yun-Fat completist, or if you want to see Seann William Scott in a role that differs from the Steve Stifler part he’s played in every other movie. However, if you don’t enjoy having your intelligence insulted by bad movies, I’d recommend finding another way to spend your entertainment dollar. Considering that its limited amount of wire-fu action has no chance of redeeming its many, many flaws, Bulletproof Monk is a movie that should be avoided. 2/10


Dr. Tom

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