U.S. Release Date:
April 16, 2003
Producer: Charles Roven
Running Time: 1 hour and 43 minutes
MPAA Rating: PG-13 (violence, language and some sexual content)
The title character of Bulletproof Monk might be invincibly without reproach, but the same can't be said for the movie, which is riddled with more holes than an Iraqi tank.
Concerning a monk who is entrusted with guarding a mystical scroll of power, Bulletproof Monk makes little sense and is staged with such ineptness in its attempts at drama, humor and the all important action sequences that it only escapes the fate of such recent dreck as Dreamcatcher by at least trying to rise above the hokey material.
At root the movie's problem is its conceit, that of the mystical scroll, which gives anyone who reads it out loud the power to rule the world for good or ill. Obviously, mankind is not ready for such power (when is it ever?) and it's up to a group of Tibetan monks to make sure the scroll remains unread, thus saving humanity from any one who would use it for dastardly ends. Now, the first question, why would said monks keep around a scroll that has such power, and that as we learn later can be easily destroyed? Why not just burn the scroll and save mankind once and for all? That this is but two of the many questions that comes up throughout isn't really the problem. Almost every action picture when analyzed closely exhibits similar problems. That they arise ten minutes in is what's wrong. That, and, fundamentally, Monk isn't really about anything—the Seinfeld syndrome again.
Though it fails at almost every level, there are moments, brief ones, but moments when there is a germ of inspiration. Gaijin hero Karr (Seann William Scott) practices his martial arts moves accompanying movies playing in the theater where he is a projectionist. The bad guys (Nazis yet again) have as their front a humanitarian organization. And there is a twist at the end, which would surprisingly serve as an interesting sequel.
Apart from the ludicrous non-story involving an aging Nazi and his plans for world domination, Monk exhibits a real lack of energy. A pity since it was co-produced by Hong Kong action director John Woo and stars Chow Yun-Fat. Yun-Fat has screen presence, but it is completely wasted here. Most of the time he is presented as a sort of comic character with flashes of heroism. Scott is also wasted and his would-be love interest Jamie King is pretty and feisty, but equally as flat.
However, most audiences are not going to see Bulletproof Monk for deep philosophical reasons, but for the action sequences. Don't bother. They are very badly staged, poorly edited and lacking any vigor. It could be that the Chinese martial arts conventions—which are more rooted in fantasy than reality—are not an idiom that translates well to a contemporary setting. But it's more a question of whether or not you believe the characters are in real peril. That's never the case here, so all the acrobatics are for naught.
See Bulletproof Monk at your peril. Or skip it and rent either a good John Woo actioner like Hard Boiled or Ang Lee's Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon.