Bulletproof Monk

BULLETPROOF MONK. 2003

Director: Paul Hunter

Reviewed by Paghat the Ratgirl



Bulletproof Monk opens on a dangerous swinging bridge on a Tibetan mountain with two monks stick-fighting & tightrope walking. The fact that it is a CGI composition is a bit too obvious but it's pictorially appealing even so. The movements are thrilling, & the whole opening sequence with its timeless setting pulls the viewer right into the film.

But after the monks bow to one another & it's revealed to have been a practice session, they repair to the CGI monestary, where the film immediately begins to fall apart.

Through clumsily didactic dialogue we learn about the Scroll with the mystic sutra by which paradise or hell could be created on the entire earth by whoever reads the text aloud. The world is not ready for good or evil either one, so monks have guarded the scroll for thousands of years, each monk in turn kept youthful for sixty years at which time the torch is handed on.

Our star (the splendid Chow Yun-Fat) is next in line to be the scroll's guardian, & momentarily the previous guardian passes magic powers to the new guardian, & the previous monk is suddenly sixty years older. No sooner is that done than Nazis arrive, kill all the monks except our hero, who escapes with the scroll.

Except for the fight on the bridge it's all pretty darned ridiculous but even if the viewer goes with the flow, the good part of the story is now over. The screen tells us "sixty years later" so we know it's time to pass on the scroll to the next bulletproof monk. Chow Yun-Fat hasn't aged a day thanks to his proximity of the scroll, but now must find the monk who fits the Three Prophesies. Two of the prophesies fall semi-cleverly to a pickpocket/thief (played with a kind of comic teen-idol indifference by Seann William Scott) who also works as a projectionist in a Chinatown theater.

Though previous guardian monks were trained from childhood before receiving the magic scroll & the attendant power to protect it, our new boy got his training from watching kung-fu movies. Riiiight. Oh, & the third prophesy was mostly revised out of the script at the last minute when everyone involved with this turkey realized they had filmed a really stupid ending. So they filmed a slightly less stupid ending which barely patched in any reference to third prophesy, so as storytelling structure goes, this has almost none.

As a trivial comedy with fight scenes the main bulk of the film is tepidly all right, & Chow Yun-Fat's laughable philosophical instructions to his unruly student will just get by as comedy. But it's not actually any good, & the ending just sucked big time. Even the action sequences are weak, relying on wires & computer FX & quick cuts so that even Chow Yun-Fat only looks his mightiest when he is standing on a taxi with two big guns blazing. When it comes to the martial arts per se, he's no Jet Li, & in most of his films he makes no effort to fake it.

There's a love interest with Jamie King as a street-smart daughter of the Russian mob which never makes any sense & we never see any element of the Russian mob, so it's just a character designation, not part of the story. She doesn't have much to do in the story at all, which undermines the "surprise" ending that at the last possible minute tries to infuse her presence with significance.

Then there's the matter of the Nazi arch enemy, who we see mostly when he's a ninety-year-old feeb. Oooo, the wheelchair man is going to hurt the super-monk! After establishing that the monk can fly & has superpowers, whenever the plot requires him to be captured or threatened, suddenly he can't fly, & he can't even punch out thugs of merely mortal capabilities.

The decrepit nazi wants to get his hands on the scroll to regain his youth & destroy all races in the world except Germans. He also has some truly stupid looking technological gizmos in his secret lair, which look like they were borrowed from one of the cheapest of cheap Saturday matinee serials of the 1930s. His chief henchman is his insipid granddaughter, who gets one brief uninteresting fight scene. The gutless arch enemies of this piece are idiotic even by the adolescent comic book standards which inform this awful story.

As action-buddies go, Yun-Fat with Scott play a little better than the kind of action-buddy films Jackie Chan has been making for the last few years, but that's not saying a lot. It's nice to see Chow Yun-Fat in just about anything, & he manages to seem charming even while spouting annoying fortune-cookie lines & grinning like a Downs Syndrom child with a candybar. He has an undeniably exciting charisma on the screen which neutralizes even the stupidest script & direction, but that same charisma greatly diminishes his co-star by comparison.

It could be argued that most kung fu movies are mere escapist mindless anti-intellectual thrills (though it would be a bad argument since there are such things as intelligent action films). The problem with this one is it lacks the thrills part. Bulletproof Monk ultimately comes off as a very childish fantasy that it is possible to become a superpowered martial artist by watching kung fu movies & that the coolest Kung fu master since Bruce Lee wants to be your best friend. I'm sure it will thrill boys in the age-range of about thirteen to sixteen.

copyright by Paghat the Ratgirl



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