Bulletproof Monk (2003)

They love this image of Chow Yun-Fat with the guns, even though his character is a Buddhist and only fires two shots in a single scene of the movie. It's Chow Yun-Fat with guns, right!
They love this image of Chow Yun-Fat with the guns, even though his character is a Buddhist and only fires two shots in a single scene of the movie. It’s Chow Yun-Fat with guns, right!

“A Power Beyond Measure Requires a Protector Without Equal”

Directed by Paul Hunter
Starring Chow Yun-Fat, Seann William Scott, Jaime King, Karel Rodan and Victoria Smurfitt

A scroll containing the power to reshape the world is protected by a wandering and unaging Monk (Yun-Fat) until such time as humanity is enlightened enough to read it. After sixty years, the Monk is seeking for a successor, but he is relentlessly pursued by Strucker (Rodan) a Nazi hungry for that absolute power.

In modern… I think it’s New York, but I wasn’t paying that much attention, the Monk encounters street thief Kar (Scott) and complicated mob princess Jade (King), and comes to suspect that Kar may be his successor. While he is seeking to ascertain the truth, however, Strucker and his granddaughter Nina (Smurfitt) are closing in on him

When the Monk is at last captured, it is up to Kar and Jade to rescue him, before Strucker turns the world into his eugenic paradise.

What’s wrong with it?

Like many of the less successful martial arts movies that followed the success of Crouching Tiger, Hidden DragonBulletproof Monk‘s fight scenes tend to be marked by quick edits and short takes, which rather detracts from the martial arts themselves.

The plot is simplistic and derivative, not just of the source comic (which I have not read, so I don’t know how loose an adaptation is is) but of any number of B-movies and secret archaeology yarns, with a bit of street vs. suits thrown in for good measure.

When the Monk defeats Strucker, Strucker defiantly insists that he will never change. This is pretty obvious, given that he is still wearing his uniform from 1943.

The Nazis’ brain drain machines are just weird in a film that is essentially a modern-set mystical kung fu movie. It’s never explained where they got this hypertech crap from.

Smurfitt appears to have prepped for her role by watching Ilsa: She-Wolf of the SS, to judge by the way she vamps around the place.

Rodan’s Strucker is having a seriously bad hair day, with a long floppy, greasy fringe like Tintin gone wrong.

The film has plenty of cod philosophy, but doesn’t actually seem to understand what it’s talking about itself. In particular, of the three prophecies which mark out the chosen one, one turns out to be applied as a pun and the third barely applies at all.

The film’s own publicity refers to Jade as ‘Bad Girl’, which is purely what she writes on a note for Kar because she hasn’t given him her name yet.

The score attempts to combine traditional Chinese influences with the Hollywood big sound, and fails on both counts.

What’s right with it?

Chow Yun-Fat is always pretty cool, even with his limited grasp of English, and there are some genuinely fun moments when the film isn’t throwing gratuitously unpleasant Nazis at the screen.

How bad is it really?

Bulletproof Monk is a mess of a movie. It is hardly a surprise to discover that a huge chunk of the denoument was reshot (the deleted scenes feature Jade and Kar recruiting local gang leader Mister Funktastic and his Funktastic Krewe for ‘a bit of argie-bargie on some Nazis,’ and actually serve to make sense of the third prophecy.)

The film wants to be simultaneously light, gritty and meaningful. It’s actually not an approach far removed from the approach adopted by a lot of Hong Kong cinema, but the mix is off and so none of the aspects really work out.

Best bit (if such there is)?

Having broken into Kar’s loft, the Monk effortlessly resists his reluctant host’s attempts to evict him, without even spilling his bowl of Coco Puffs.

What’s up with…?

  • Mr Funktastic, the Cockney New York gang leader? Seriously; he’s not even just played by an English actor, he’s all rhyming slang and stuff.
  • The Nazi creepy supertech? The rest of the film is a kung fu movie, but get to the basement of the Human Rights Organisation front and it’s all Wolfenstein up in this bitch.
  • The scroll writing itself automatically onto Kar and Jade? The Monk had apparently had it transcribed and tattooed – presumably by someone who couldn’t read the language – but when the guardianship passes the ink apparently knows to switch skins.
  • The nature of the power? The Monk explains his longevity as ‘the trust of time’, but Strucker is able to steal youth and kung fu skillz by reading aloud the first part of the scroll.

Ratings

Production values – The special effects are minimal (interestingly, the deleted scenes show that they were originally planning to use more,) but the sets are interesting and the fights are okay when the takes are allowed to run. 8
Dialogue and performances – The philosophy is pure fortune cookie and most of the rest of the dialogue is pretty simple stuff. The performances do a lot to pick it up, especially the odd couple chemistry between Scott and Yun-Fat. 9
Plot and execution – The film tells a lot that it ought to show (again, a deleted scene featured a sort of guided vision in which Scott would have learned about the scroll) and the plot is pretty basic.  11
Randomness – Nazi mind-suckers? Mister Funktastic? What is the nature of the world in which this thing is set? 12
Waste of potential – Nazis vs. martial arts is hardly a rich vein, yet one that is not explored to its fullest here. 10

Overall 50%

Note: This film was originally reviewed on the first incarnation of the site, scoring 56%.

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