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 Andrew L. Urban:
A fan of Chow Yun-Fat and always up for a bit of well choreographed, escapist martial arts nonsense, I am sad to report that Bulletproof Monk seems to have been written with no respect for the intelligence of its audience. Chow retains my respect, though, and there are scenes that work, and the production design is first class, as is the inventive, gutsy score. But the script is a risible attempt at milking various elements like a recipe throwing together ingredients while the cook doesn’t quite know how to use them properly. You would have to be in an undemanding mood to accept some of the propositions here, and to enjoy the short attention span that enables you to move from scene to scene without requiring the lifebelt of credibility –if only within its own universe. But that’s a silly yardstick, I suppose, for a story that begins with a magic scroll whose powers rest in being read, but those powers can’t ever be unleashed. Well, yes and no; Crouching Tiger Hidden Dragon had as its ‘magic item’ the sword that was the object of desire by the forces of good and evil, and see how well that story was handled on screen. It’s always a case of HOW not just WHAT, and storytelling on film needs to be as respectful of its audience as does a book. The comic book genesis of the film is only evident in its mistakes, and its weakness is magnified by its potential. Too many of the acrobatic martial arts fight scenes are shot in close up, cheating the audience of the contextual wide shot. The characters (and several plot points) are handled with cavalier broadstrokes, with convenience as the currency. And too many of the baddies are simplistic goons, including the arch baddie; Karel Roden is cheated of an opportunity to be truly engaging by hamfisted direction. And his demise is so mishandled it spoils the ending. Bulletproof Monk might be a bit of fun as a Saturday afternoon video, but it is unworthy of the big screen.
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.
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Favourable: 1 (Louise)
Unfavourable: 1 (Andrew)
BULLETPROOF MONK (M)
CAST: Chow Yun-Fat, Seann William Scott, Jaime King, Karel Roden, Victoria Smurfit, Marcus J. Pirae, Mako, Roger Yuan, Chris Collins, Sean Bell
PRODUCER: Terence Chang, Charles Roven, Douglas Segal, John Woo
DIRECTOR: Paul Hunter
SCRIPT: Ethan Reiff, Cyrus Voris
CINEMATOGRAPHER: Stefan Czapsky
EDITOR: Robert K. Lambert
MUSIC: Eric Serra
PRODUCTION DESIGN: Deborah Evans
OTHER: Language: English/Tibetan
RUNNING TIME: 104 minutes
AUSTRALIAN DISTRIBUTOR: Hoyts
AUSTRALIAN RELEASE: June 12, 2003
VIDEO DISTRIBUTOR: Columbia TriStar Home Entertainment
VIDEO RELEASE: October 8, 200e