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A martial arts master and Buddhist monk (Chow Yun-Fat) inherits the onerous, dangerous yet honoured 60-year task of protecting a powerful ancient scroll which holds the key to unlimited power over good and evil, as well as control over ageing and injury. Every 60 years, a new protector must be found, according to prophesies handed down. Finding himself in New York in his quest to find a successor, the monk with no name reluctantly recognises that the next guardian might be a street wise petty thief, Kar (Seann William Scott), who only needs a trim and tweak by the master to qualify. But the evil Struker (Karel Roden), a left-over from Nazi Germany, is determined to steal the scroll and by reciting it in full, to gain total control over the world. 

Review by Louise Keller:
An enticing title that perfectly sets up our anticipation for a rollicking martial-arts comic-book fable adventure, Bulletproof Monk is filled with eye-popping stunts and relies heavily on its odd-ball pairing of Crouching Tiger’s Chow Yun-Fat and American Pie’s Seann William Scott: the sage and the punk. It makes for interesting coupling and much of the film’s success comes as a direct result of the screen presence and performances of these two actors. Yun-Fat (whose English is improving with each film) has plenty of charisma as the nameless monk who philosophises endlessly about universal truths and achieving a state of enlightenment, while Scott's street-wise pickpocket who has potential is the perfect foil. 

Director Paul Hunter cut his teeth on directing music videos, which is perhaps why many sequences have that high-octane gee-whiz feel, with its occasionally annoying jumpy editing. But it’s an enjoyable romp for the undemanding, with plenty of striking martial arts action, impressively choreographed with spectacular wire-work and high kicks. Yun-Fat carries the film, but Scott’s easy, lop-sided grin gives him a likeable presence, and the intense fitness campaign he embraced (during which he lost 30 lbs), pays off, with Scott displaying lithe athleticism and a natural flair for the fight scenes. 

It may be formulaic, but I like the way the characters are developed and there’s a delightful ‘getting to know you’ scene when Kar finds the monk eating Coco-Pops in his dishevelled kitchen. It’s an imaginative and fun scene in which neither the monk nor his Coco-Pops can be shaken or stirred. I also like those wise sayings similar to those the old master taught his Grasshopper, with profundities like ‘Water that is too pure has no fish.’ But it seems Kar’s enlightenment relies on his answer to the monk’s question ‘Why do hot dogs come in packets of 8, while hot dog rolls come in packets of 10’; food for thought indeed. Jaime King (formerly known as James King) is a pretty diversion as the mysterious romantic interest named Jade and she kicks a pretty mean punch to boot. While every effort is made to create a unique villain in Struker (as opposed to X-Men 2’s Stryker), his is the least convincing character, with neither he nor his granddaughter side-kick having the required gravitas required for such a villain. Don’t examine the story line too closely either, or you’ll start ripping the plot apart. Bulletproof Monk is most enjoyable if accepted for the light-weight comic-book fantasy it purports to be.

There are five short featurettes, that together run around 20 minutes, for a comprehensive glimpse into the background of all concerned and the making of the film. With the casting of Yun Chow Fat, the filmmakers were confident that this immediately elevated it into a more intelligent movie. And it was not only actors Sean Scott Williams and Jaime King who desperately wanted their roles (and were prepared to go to great lengths to get them), but this was the break for music director Paul Hunter. The film was shot in Toronto in freezing wintry conditions: those behind the camera are far more rugged up than the actors.

Of special interest is the featurette ‘The Monk Unrobed’ in which Michael Yanover, creator of the comic book and executive producer of the movie talks about the character’s origins and how they brought it to the screen. The intention was to combine classic comic book heroism and storytelling with a new kind of superhero – someone with superpowers and spiritual elements. There are six deleted scenes, including an alternative ending.

Published October 9, 2003

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CAST: Chow Yun-Fat, Seann William Scott, Jaime King, Karel Roden, Victoria Smurfit, Marcus J. Pirae, Mako, Roger Yuan, Chris Collins, Sean Bell

DIRECTOR: Paul Hunter

SCRIPT: Ethan Reiff, Cyrus Voris

OTHER: LANGUAGE: English/Tibetan

RUNNING TIME: 104 minutes

PRESENTATION: 16 : 9 widescreen

SPECIAL FEATURES: Tao of Monk and The Monk Unrobed behind-the-scenes features on the making of the movie with cast and crew interviews; never-before seen deleted scenes; behind the scenes photo gallery; trailer

DVD DISTRIBUTOR: Col TriStar Entertainment

DVD RELEASE: October 8, 2003

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