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Dustin Putman

Dustin's Review
Bulletproof Monk (2003)

Directed by Paul Hunter
Cast: Chow Yun-Fat, Seann William Scott, Jaime King, Karel Roden, Victoria Smurfit, Marcus Jean Pirae, Roger Yuan
2003 – 104 minutes
Rated: Rated PG-13 (for violence, language, and sexual innuendo).
Reviewed by Dustin Putman, April 16, 2003.

In the most unlikely team-up since, well, Adam Sandler and Jack Nicholson in last week's "Anger Management," martial-arts star Chow Yun-Fat (1999's "The Corruptor") and goofball "American Pie" alum Seann William Scott join ranks for the highly unfortunate and cheesy "Bulletproof Monk." Once you view the trailer and realize what the title entails, you will have basically seen all that the film has to offer.

The movie opens in Tibet, circa 1943, as the Master Monk (Roger Yuan) passes down his power of immortality to the inconsequentially-named Monk With No Name (Chow Yun-Fat). With a sudden indestructibility and youthfulness that will last him 60 years, before he must pass it on to someone else, Monk With No Name must make it his life's work to keep the "Scroll of the Ultimate"—its contents of which, if read aloud, will give the speaker world domination—out of the wrong hands. His biggest adversary is Strucker (Karel Roden), a former Third Reich officer who will stop at nothing to get the scroll and achieve this gift.

Fast-forward to the present day, a very old Strucker is still after the scroll, sending out his henchmen and granddaughter, Nina (Victoria Smurfit), to do his bidding. As they continue to close in on him, Monk With No Name has a chance encounter with Kar (Seann William Scott), a pickpocket with a good heart whom he suspects may have what it takes to be his successor. As he and Kar strike up a friendship, Kar finds himself gradually clued in to what is going on. Together, and later with the help of angelic tough-girl Jade (Jaime King), they set out to keep Strucker away from the scroll.

The premise is utterly preposterous, and not in a "check-your-brain-at-the-door-and-just-have-fun" kind of way, either. Since there is nonexistent entertainment value (or any other kind of value) to be had, one is forced into an excruciating 104-minute wandering train of thought about the particulars of the story. Since the scroll can only be bad news if Strucker obtains it, why don't they (1) destroy it, or (2) read it aloud themselves and create a self-described "Paradise" rather than a "Hell on Earth?" This volcanic-sized plot hole is not merely a source of bad writing on screenwriters Ethan Reiff and Cyrus Voris' part, but holds the viewers' intelligence in contempt. Rarely before has a motion picture contained a conflict that could have so easily been solved in the first five minutes.

Were the rest of "Bulletproof Monk" either amusing, exciting, or even unintentionally bad, one might have been able to overlook its severely flawed narrative. No such luck. The action sequences, which glaringly steal from 2000's "Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon" and 1999's "The Matrix" to the point of plagiarism, are so artificial and chintzy that they quickly lose whatever interest they might have held. In today's times of advanced visual effects, there is no reason why a studio picture should look so cheap and contain such poor visuals. The production design by Deborah Evans (2000's "Remember the Titans") and cinematography by Stefan Czapsky (1999's "Wild Wild West") are just as disconcerting, with every shot appearing as if it was filmed either in front of a matte screen, with failing lighting equipment, or in someone's basement.

Chow Yun-Fat may be a better actor in his native Hong Kong, but in every one of his American efforts, he has failed to impress. As hard as he tries to be charismatic--and there are moments here where he does—he fails at achieving any sort of solid screen presence. I'd take Jet Li or Jackie Chan any day of the week over him. As Kar, Seann William Scott continues to coast on his Stifler persona, and the sarcastic-but-good-guy routine is starting to wear out its welcome. Meanwhile, Jaime King (2001's "Slackers") has traded in her more unconventional and powerful first name of James for one that somehow reminds of trailer trash. As Jade, King plays the part of a potted plant with conviction.

"Bulletproof Monk" has a single scene—a rooftop battle set on a seesawing sign threatening to topple over the edge at any minute—that is admittedly well-done. What surrounds this set-piece is strictly vacuous and insulting. Paul Hunter, making his directorial debut, clearly has no idea how to wrench anything of charm or worth out of his characters, nor does he know how to convincingly shoot fights or chases. In an action film like "Bulletproof Monk," this failing might as well be a cinematic kiss of death.
© 2003 by Dustin Putman
Dustin Putman