Bulletproof Monk Review
Read an alternative review by Anthony Nield (Region 2 DVD)
A very mediocre example of the Hollywood martial arts film, Bulletproof Monk wouldn't be worth your cash at the best of times and it's arriving in a year when multiplexes have been saturated with similar and better movies. If you want to see a good American martial arts film, see Jackie Chan in Shanghai Knights, for a special effects blockbuster, there's the excellent Daredevil and if you just fancy a fun, trashy action flick, check out Cradle 2 The Grave. With X-Men 2 and The Matrix Reloaded both imminent, there's no reason to waste your money on something as second rate as this.
The story opens in 1943 in a Tibetan temple, where the nameless Monk (Chow Yun-Fat) is being presented with the Sacred Plot Device, a scroll which can change the world to reflect the vision of its owner. Naturally mankind is not ready for this power and so the scroll must be kept hidden and protected by a guardian monk. Each monk looks after it for sixty years, during which time he doesn't age and is virtually invulnerable, hence the title. But just as the new guardian takes over, a platoon of Nazi soldiers attack the temple. As we know from the Indiana Jones films, Nazis love ancient relics and their leader, the vicious Strucker (Karel Roden) wants to use the scroll to eliminate all non-Aryan races. The soldiers kill everyone except the Monk, who escapes with the scroll and subsequently spends the next sixty years wandering the Earth, pursued by Strucker's henchmen.
Cut to present day America, where Strucker's granddaughter Nina (Victoria Smurfit) now leads his quest under cover of an international human rights organisation. The Monk, whose time as the guardian is almost up, meets petty thief Kar (Seann William Scott), whom he senses may have it in him to be his successor. Together with the beautiful, mysterious Jade (Jaime King), they team up to keep Nina and her goons from getting their hands on the scroll and turning the world into a Nazi's paradise.
Bulletproof Monk has a decent cast but little idea what to do with them. Fans of Chow Yun-Fat won't be happy to see him essentially playing straight man to Stifler from American Pie. Although Chow's top-billed, it's Seann William Scott who has the biggest part and even does the lion's share of the fighting. Hollywood likes Hong Kong stars, as they pull in the young male audience and are better actors and athletes than the current crop of American action heroes, but the studios don't trust Asians to carry films by themselves so there must always be an American sidekick, preferably a rap star or comedian. Which brings us to Scott. Although he's not to everyone's taste, he's made me laugh more than any other actor of his generation and I liked him in January's little-seen heist movie Stark Raving Mad so I was disappointed by his bland performance here.
Also obligatory is the sexy karate babe with attitude, who has replaced the sexy, helpless bimbo who gets captured in the last half-hour as the standard female role in action movies. It's probably a step forward for feminism, although I suspect the real motive is appealing to guys who are horny for high-kicking foxes like Sarah Michelle Gellar and Jennifer Garner. Jaime King, who was Ewen Bremner's girl in Pearl Harbor, certainly has the looks and the moves. It's a shame the script gives her no personality other than acting tough.
It's dispiriting the way Bulletproof Monk ticks off every action movie convention without adding any twists of its own. It's a standard buddy / chase movie with cartoon bad guys who even have a secret underground lair. This lair is in a sewer by the way, just like the villain's lair in The Tuxedo. If you were a rich megalomaniac and your evil plan depended on sensitive computer equipment, wouldn't you keep it somewhere less damp? Naturally there's a villian with an English accent, in fact, come to think of it, there are two of them. The Nazi's granddaughter I could just about understand - maybe she went to an English school - but making the leader of an American street gang a cockney geezer is pushing it. Finally and unforgivably, the action scenes are nothing to write home about. The fighting is largely done with special effects and is unimpressive, save for an amusing scene where the Monk casually fends off Kar's attacks while eating a bowl of cereal. It's the only memorable moment in the film.