Bulletproof Monk (2003) / Action-Comedy

MPAA Rated: PG-13, for violence, language and some sexual content      
Running Time: 104 min.

Cast: Chow Yun-Fat, Seann William Scott, Jamie King, Karel Roden, Victoria Smurfit
Director:  Paul Hunter
Screenplay: Ethan Reiff, Cyrus Voris

Review published April 17, 2003

Normally, BULLETPROOF MONK is the kind of flick that I enjoy, a somewhat cheesy but ambitious action-comedy that is entertains even if it's a half-baked crock.  It stars one of my favorite Hong Kong actors, it's based on a comic book, and there's lots of nifty fight sequences. 

Yeesh! I wish I could even call this dud half-baked, because I don't even think it was ever in the same room as an oven, with such ill-conceived characters and a bizarre, nonsensical storyline, it's like the result of pouring everything you have in the fridge into a blender and pressing puree.

BULLETPROOF MONK starts off in 1941, where a Tibetan monastery is decimated by a Nazi squad led by the evil Strucker.  One of the monks gets away, mostly because he has been recently imbued with great powers and an ancient scroll full of wisdom and an ability to keep the body young, something Strucker is desperate to claim to use in his quest for world domination and purification.  Fast forward 60 years later, where in the United States, the monk finds himself still on the run from Strucker and his henchmen, led by Strucker's daughter, Nina.  The nameless monk befriends an agile pickpocket who has a few moves of his own, and together they seek to protect the scroll from ending up in the hands of Strucker, and save the world in the process.

Although clearly not a film striving for believability, I am more apt to believe a monk can fly than some of the plot points and ridiculous eccentrics that inhabit most of this dreary actioner.  First comes Seann William Scott's Kar, a young man who is self-taught in the most elaborate kung fu, mimicking moves seen in old martial arts flicks shown in a theater he works in.  There is Jade, aka Bad Girl, the daughter of a Russian mobster, who loves a life of fighting in the streets so she can earn some respect, hanging out with the likes of a crazy Brit called Mr. Funktastic.  Of course, all of these baddies are skilled in hand-to-hand martial arts combat, requiring us to believe that New York is the Mecca for Eastern philosophy and combat styles.

From its very conception, BULLETPROOF MONK is all wrong, only to be compounded by some very bad dialogue from screenwriters Ethan Reiff and Cyrus Voris, and it will come as no surprise to anyone who views this that TALES FROM THE CRYPT: DEMON KNIGHT would be their biggest claim to fame in film to date.  It's all very thinly held together by first-time director Paul Hunter, who does the best he can with the poor plot, but can't even manage to raise the pulse for the duration, even during what should be some incredible fight sequences.  These fights are rather claustrophobic and sloppily shot, alternating between obvious stunt doubles, obvious wire-fu, and obvious CGI.

The film's only saving grace in keeping this from the abyss comes from the casting of Chow Yun-Fat himself, remarkably emerging unscathed from the fiasco that surrounds him.  The film only is of interest when he is speaking, using his charm and strong presence to elevate even the worst dialogue into sounding like pearls of wisdom.  If only the rest of the production were worthy of his talents, we could have had a nice pre-Summer gem.

Only those who are entertained from the feeblest of action films, such as the kind you generally find starring Dolph Lundgren or Brian Bosworth, would find BULLETPROOF MONK worth sitting though, but I doubt even they would shell out any bucks to see this, opting for it to become the staple for late night cable TV action marathons.  If you really want to see this material done well, check out the recent SHANGHAI KNIGHTS, or better yet, BERRY GORDY'S THE LAST DRAGON, which featured a similar storyline, but done with the right tone and sense of fun.  This one is just flat out bad, and not in the good way, as dull an action flick as you're likely to see these days, with a plot full of so many holes you know it's neither bulletproof nor idiotproof.

Qwipster's rating:

2003 Vince Leo