Bulletproof Monk (2003) Movie Review

You have to be a really big fan of Hong Kong legend Chow Yun-Fat (“The Killer”) to fully appreciate “Bulletproof Monk”, a derivative film about an immortal Tibetan monk (Chow) who has been protecting a mythical and powerful scroll for the last 60 years. Chasing the monk is Strucker (Karel Roden), a Nazi who has grown old and frail since World War II, and now relies on his equally evil granddaughter Nina (Victoria Smurfit) to carry on the pursuit.

In America, Chow’s Monk With No Name encounters street-smart pickpocket Kar (Seann William Scott), who the monk sees potential in. Kar, on the other hand, is only interested in getting into the pants of ex-model Jaime King (“Pearl Harbor”), who plays the mysterious and tough Jade. As Nina’s army of faceless gunmen pursues the monk and Kar endlessly through the city, Kar begins to slowly but surely warm to the idea of finding something more important to do with his life besides steal people’s watches in the subway.

Which brings us to the film’s biggest plothole, which goes something like this: if the scroll is so powerful and, in the wrong hands can destroy the world, why doesn’t Chow’s monk just destroy the thing? As the monk himself proves, it’s not the scroll that is powerful, but rather the words on them. (The words must be said out loud to achieve its power.) So why doesn’t the monk, or his predecessors for that matter, just destroy the scroll, thus wiping the words from human memory forever? Why lug around such a powerful device and risk it falling into the hands of bad guys like Strucker?

It must be said, and it’s painfully obvious, that “Bulletproof Monk” offers nothing new by way of action. Director Paul Hunter, a long-time veteran of MTV music videos, has yet to master the art of storytelling. As a result, the flow of “Monk’s” narrative feels choppy and somehow incomplete. The action sequences are heavily doctored with wireworks, although in the confines of the movie’s insistence that “gravity doesn’t really exist” this can be explained away. But what can’t be explained is how Nina and her band of merry men keep locating the monk. Of course the real explanation is quite simple: Nina locates the monk and an action sequence ensues whenever the screenwriter feels that the movie has gone on for too long without action.

It helps that Chow handles most of the action stunts well enough to be believable. People who know Chow from Ang Lee’s “Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon” may be surprised to learn that Chow’s career was not built on martial arts. In fact, Chow has only done a couple of martial arts pictures that I can recall. The vast majority of Chow’s claim to fame has come in collaboration with directors like John Woo, whose Heroic Bloodshed films relied heavily on gunplay (or gun-fu, as Hong Kong movie lovers call it).

Co-star Seann William Scott (“Final Destination”) doesn’t need anyone to tell him how to play a smartass, which he does here with aplomb. But the surprise of “Monk” is Jaime King, who gives an excellent physical show as Jade, the bad girl with the kicks and punches to back up her bad attitude. Who knew she could kick so much ass? Unfortunately King’s burgeoning romance with Scott is inevitable and uninteresting, but that’s to be expected in been-there, done-that movies like “Monk”.

“Bulletproof Monk” could have been a lot better than the finished product. Director Paul Hunter could have discarded more of his MTV background and kept his action flowing in a coherent manner, and the screenplay could have strived for a better villain than Roden’s cartoonish Nazi. Although I have to admit, the movie’s placing of Nazi war criminal Strucker and his granddaughter Nina as the head of a human rights organization is quite inspired. Shades of the real-life U.N. putting Cuba and Syria in charge of its human rights board, perhaps?

Paul Hunter (director) / Ethan Reiff, Cyrus Voris (screenplay)
CAST: Yun-Fat Chow …. Monk With No Name
Seann William Scott …. Kar
Jaime King …. Jade/Bad Girl
Karel Roden …. Strucker
Victoria Smurfit …. Nina

Buy Bulletproof Monk on DVD