Movie Review: Bulletproof Monk

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An immortal kung-fu fighting monk starts training a street wise American kid to fulfill a prophecy and pass on an ancient scroll.

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Paul Hunter, 2003

At the height of the second world war, a Nepalese monk (Chow Yun Fat) discovers he has fulfilled prophecies to become the keeper of a secred scroll which grants the holder immunity from death and injury until he passes that scroll on to a new prophecy fulfiller after 60 years. The monastery is then attacked by Nazis (of course) who kill the monk’s old master and shoot him before he escapes. Sixty years later, the monk (who has no name) finds himself in New York where he meets a street smart punk called Kar (Seann William Scott) who lives and works at a Chinese movie house. He and Kar save a little girl from getting hit by a train and then part ways, but not before Kar steals the scroll. Kar then finds himself faced with a gang led by a guy called – and I am not making this up – Mister Funktastic (Marcus Jean Pirae) and kicks all their butts until faced with a girl called Jade (Jaime King), who beats him. He escapes and the monk just…takes his scroll back and follows him to his home, cuz why not? Then the Nazis, now led by uberhottie Nina (Victoria Smurfitt) in leather and high-heeled boots, come after them to unlock the secrets of the scroll. There’s fights and stuff, which lead the monk to believe that Kar is the next destined keeper of the scroll.

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We watched this for a fun, which kind of worked, in the sense that it was a lot of fun to mock. It’s pure cheesy wire-fu action; the movie was made in 2003, in the wake of the popularity of Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon, and it shows. In some ways the film embraces the cheese, as many comic book movies of the era did, by leaving in plenty of slapstick humour and silly lines (and, come on, Mister Funktastic!). The wire-fu is much, much less proficent than in the Chinese films being made around the time, however, and comes across as looking fake and flimsy. There are some genuinely funny moments, mostly from Chow Yun Fat, and a few genuinely badass moments – Fat again, but occasionally Nina, who has perfected the art of the power walk. The writing is lazy in plotting, pulling not one but two “kill the mentor” rabbits out of the hat to evoke emotion, but there are some surprisingly genuine character moments. The direction from Paul Hunter is decidedly lazy, showing his music video roots without showing and indication of why he might have been chosen for this film. Jade in particular is a mess of a character, a bunch of disparate ideas that don’t quite come together to make a whole person.

This is an early acting gig for Jaime King, and it shows. Her line readings are flat and lifeless, and while she looks like she could kick butt in the action scenes, there’s too much wire-fu for it to really be effective. At one point, she enters a torture chamber and reacts with as much horror as one would upon entering a room with slightly offputting decor. There’s a somewhat neat little twist at the end that was actually unexpected and that gives Jade a little more to do than be pretty and kick ass. The film does, however, resort to the Designated Girl Fight trope at the end, with Nina and Jade facing off. Acting-wise, Victoria Smurfit acquits herself much better than Jaime King – for me, she was by far the highlight of the movie in spite of being given very little to work with. Chow Yun Fat seems to be having fun, at least, in his Yoda-esque role (affable “fool” vs. flippy flying ninja skillz). He has a really impressive moment in old man make-up, too, where he changes his physicality and his voice enough to be believable. Seann William Scott is Stifler from the streets with a kung-fu upgrade. It’s definitely not a great film, but it’s not the worst I’ve seen, either.

Bulletproof Monk on IMDb

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