Published on April 17th, 2003 | by Ed Colley0
Cast: Chow Yun-Fat, Seann William Scott, Jaime King
Bulletproof Monk, the Chow Yun-Fat / Seann William Scott-starring martial arts movie, is, quite frankly, a bit buggered from the get-go, regardless of its subsequent quality (or lack of). Why? Because the film’s trailers include The Matrix: Reloaded and X-Men 2.
Now, presumably the kind of person prepared to spend their hard earned cash on Bulletproof Monk rather than, say, Nowhere in Africa, is going to be exactly the kind of person who is pretty darned excited about the prospect of either the new Matrix or X-Men flicks, if not both of them. Which all-in-all means that after seeing said trailers, the only film the audience of Bulletproof Monk really wants to see is going to star either Keanu Reeves or Hugh Jackman (and we’re not talking Sweet November or Kate and Leopold here people).
The only way this distraction could be rectified is if Bulletproof Monk was one of the most highly-original and exciting East-meets-West buddy action flicks to hit town since, er, Shanghai Knights.
Well, you can guess the rest.
This is not to say that Bulletproof Monk doesn’t at least try to be an enjoyable movie. The plot, for starters, is nice and simple. Chow Yun Fat plays a Tibetan monk who must relinquish his name and the ageing process to look after a scroll, the reader of which will be given endless power and whatnot. After nearly being killed in 1943 by a nasty Nazi (it’s always good when the bad-guys a Nazi, as it means guilt-free booing) and then being chased for the next 60-odd years by the same evildoer, Mr Monk finds himself in the US where he bumps into petty criminal Kar (Scott) who seems to have what it takes to be the next keeper of the scroll.
Evidently, the majority of the film hangs upon the dynamics between Chow Yun-Fat and Sean William Scott, both of whom are enjoyable to watch. Yun-Fat (who should be particularly well-known to John Woo aficionados, and Woo is in fact one of the producers of Bulletproof Monk) is very good, overcoming an evident inability to speak coherent English with an impish grin and the cumulative weight of a particularly impressive filmography to back him up. Scott, whose filmography is slightly less impressive, except for genius that is Dude, Where’s My Car, does his old Stiffler turn (this time with extra muscles and a particularly rigid martial arts style), yet again getting away with poor acting skills thanks to a residue of charm and a vague comic touch (although it must be said that his constipated, cross-eyed face is wearing a little thin).
Separately, the boys aren’t bad, but together they can’t quite make up their minds whether they’re an amusing double-act, dipping their toes in comedy waters which Jackie Chan has been splashing about in for the past couple of years, or whether they have this deep, master-pupil relationship going on. In the end they try and do both, spreading themselves too thin, and at times looking both unconvincing and uncomfortable as a result.
The action scenes, which are essentially the only reason why anyone would come to watch Bulletproof Monk, are relatively exciting, and it’s always great to see Yun-Fat in full flow, as he has a commanding screen presence when he’s not talking. However, the scenes that do feature a bit of martial arts choreography, apart from being few and far between, do not even come close to reaching the bar set by Crouching Tiger, The Matrix et al. Instead, too much time is given over to the absolutely dire script (favourite line: ‘Not getting out of this alive? That would suck’) which witters on about pseudo Zen Buddhist fatalistic rubbish, finally offloading any pretence of intelligence by delivering what is perhaps the worst piece of cod-philosophy ever committed to celluloid.
Bulletproof Monk does exactly what it says on the tin and promises an hour and a half of mildly diverting entertainment. However, if you haven’t done so already, save your coppers and rent The Killers or Hard Boiled, to name just two much better examples of Yun-Fat in all of his glory. Just make sure the name Mark Wahlberg is nowhere to be seen.