Bulletproof Monk Review
Starting out in 1943, Bulletproof Monk opens with the massacre of a monastery by a gang of Nazis. These Nazis are after a scroll that will allow them the means to mass genocide, yet it remains in the possession of the massacre’s sole survivor, Chow Yun-Fat. Fast forward sixty years and the situation has changed little; Fat is still being pursued, though the time has come for him to pass on the scrolls to whoever fulfils the three prophecies. And the person who appears to be the answer to these is a petty street thief played by Seann William Scott.
As this brief synopsis would suggest, Bulletproof Monk is firmly situated in the action-adventure genre, yet the presence of Scott also points towards a comic element, which is surprisingly pronounced. Of course, there is also a fair amount of sentimentality, though it is the odd couple pairing of Yun-Fat and Scott that proves to be the film’s raison d’etre.
An increasingly present element of the action-comedy sub-genre (48 HRS, Midnight Run, Rush Hour), this mismatching allows the two actors to play off each other surprisingly well. Seann William Scott revives the slacker charm present in the American Pie films, and Chow Yun-Fat manages to rekindle some of the charisma from his Hong Kong efforts, until now unavailable in his American movies. Yet what proves more surprising is the way in which the writers have inverted the audiences expectations and allowed Scott the great portion of action scenes, and Chow Yun-Fat likewise the comedy. The keen use of wirework for the action scenes (surprisingly adept for an American picture) allows Scott to look good rather than out of place, and the comic moments make fine use of Yun-Fat’s aforementioned charisma. It is notable that this is the first Western film that Yun-Fat has made where he looks truly comfortable in the role, the US having previously saddled him with roles either underwritten or out of character with his charms (Anna and the King being the most prominent example).
This success may, in part, be the result of the way that Bulletproof Monk bucks the trend of Hollywood’s treatment of Asian directors and actors. Upon making the transition to Western filmmaking, both Tsui Hark and John Woo started out with Jean-Claude Van Damme vehicles (though they got off lightly compared to Stanley Tong, who had the job of directing Mr. Magoo). Likewise, actors such as Jackie Chan, Jet Li and, indeed, Chow Yun-Fat have ended up in so-so thrillers such as Rush Hour, Romeo Must Die and The Replacement Killers, films which can’t help but feel lacklustre when compared to their previous work. Bulletproof Monk escapes this from having John Woo’s presence as producer, and whilst it has a first-time American director in the shape of Paul Hunter (upgrading from pop promos and commercials work), this pairing allows for at least a flavour of Hong Kong filmmaking to be added to the proceedings. Moreover, it has allowed Yun-Fat to appear at ease, and as a result created his best Western film to date.
That said, the film is lacking in other areas. There is a trite cod-mysticism to much of the dialogue, and the romantic sub-plot involving Seann William Scott and Jaime King is often forgotten about and then picked up seemingly at random, giving a general impression of a lack of conviction. However, as the film concentrates its efforts primarily of the pairing of the two leads, and allows for a genuine rapport to build between them, these flaws often seem negligible. Most importantly, it is this sense of connection that allows Bulletproof Monk to be so entertaining, indeed probably the most enjoyable “East meets West” movie since John Carpenter’s still underrated Big Trouble in Little China.
Picture and Sound
The disc makes exceptional use of the film’s muted palette. Offered with an anamorphic transfer of the original 2.35:1 ratio, the print is crisp and shows enough depth during the numerous darkly lit scenes.
As for sound, only a 5.1 Dolby Digital mix is present, though this ably both the film’s quiet, contemplative moments and the louder action scenes. Indeed, the mix is crystal clear throughout.
As with many DVDs the most notable extra is the commentary. The one offered here has been recorded by director Paul Hunter and two of the film’s producers, Charles Roven and Douglas Segal. Whilst the number of participants allows for a fair amount of information to be imparted (primarily concerned with the actors and fight sequences), the commentary is, on the whole, a dry affair.
Bulletproof Monk’s production is better served by the six featurettes (altogether totalling a little over an hour). The main piece, ‘Enter the Monk’, details the entire production, and one gets the impression that Paul Hunter (the featurette’s principle interviewee) is more comfortable in this kind of situation. The other documentaries cover individual aspects of the film, such as the score and the fight sequences, though the most notable is ‘The Monk Unrobed’, which delves into Bulletproof Monk’s origins as a comic book.
Also present are six deleted scenes which sadly come with no commentary or context. However, it becomes apparent that each of the scenes were deleted for reasons of pacing; the first two offer fairly lengthy dialogue sequences, and the latter four show an abandoned sub-plot that ran through the film’s climax. Mildly interesting, none of these scenes offer anything essential.
Backing up these main special features are the usual photo gallery of production stills and the original theatrical trailer.
(No subtitles are present on any of these extras.)
A surprisingly entertaining film, and one that proves a better prospect that Chow Yun-Fat's previous American films. Plus, Pathe have provided a selection of healthy extras, making this an all-round worthwhile purchase.
This disc is released on September the 15th.