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BULLETPROOF MONK (*)

Movie Review by:
Jim "Good Old JR" Rutkowski
Directed by:
Paul Hunter
Written by:
Ethan Reiff and Cyrus Voris
Starring:
Chow Yun-Fat, Seann William Scott, Jamie King
Running time:
103 minutes
Released:
4/16/03
Rated PG-13 for violence, profanity and sexual innuendo.
...lame comedy, campy mysticism and dumb plotting.
Maybe what it takes to fully enjoy Bulletproof Monk is an appreciation of '80s and '90s Hong Kong martial arts flicks. If that's the case, I don't have the necessary prerequisites. Outside of the moments of kinetic madness that represent the action sequences, this movie is an amalgamation of lame comedy, campy Eastern mysticism (or, as one character puts it, "fortune cookie philosophy"), and dumb plotting. Admittedly, in a film like this, one has to cut the screenwriters some slack, since reality isn't what they're trying to achieve. But there is an invisible line across which even the silliest movies cannot traverse if they want to keep their audiences, and Bulletproof Monk crosses it. The story's entire foundation is based upon a plot hole so gargantuan that anyone not suffering a brain cramp will identify it at once. Maybe what it takes to fully enjoy Bulletproof Monk is an appreciation of '80s and '90s Hong Kong martial arts flicks. If that's the case, I don't have the necessary prerequisites. Outside of the moments of kinetic madness that represent the action sequences, this movie is an amalgamation of lame comedy, campy Eastern mysticism (or, as one character puts it, "fortune cookie philosophy"), and dumb plotting. Admittedly, in a film like this, one has to cut the screenwriters some slack, since reality isn't what they're trying to achieve. But there is an invisible line across which even the silliest movies cannot traverse if they want to keep their audiences, and Bulletproof Monk crosses it. The story's entire foundation is based upon a plot hole so gargantuan that anyone not suffering a brain cramp will identify it at once.
 
Okay, so this is really Star Wars meets Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon, with the camp level ratcheted up to an astronomical level. It's designed with ADD sufferers in mind, which means that the less you think about the movie, the better it works. A coherent storyline is the last thing anyone cares about. Those aspects of the plot that make any sense are familiar: the aging warrior taking on an apprentice in the fight against evil, the indefatigable forces of villainy, the almost-magical powers that allow the good guys to walk on air and do amazing things, and the princess who's as apt to rescue as to be rescued.
 
The redoubtable Chow Yun-Fat, a legend of Hong Kong cinema (and one of the stars of Crouching Tiger), is the Monk With No Name (not to be confused with Clint Eastwood's Man With No Name). He has been the guardian of the "Scroll of the Ultimate" since 1943, when the Nazis invaded Tibet's Temple of Sublime Truth and attempted to take it away from him. With the scroll inhibiting aging, the Monk has spent 60 years fleeing from Strucker (Karel Roden), who survived the purge of Third Reich officers, and looking for his replacement. In modern day America, things come to a head when Strucker and his granddaughter, Nina (Victoria Smurfit), close in just as the Monk discovers a possible successor in Kar (Seann William Scott), a rootless pickpocket. Together, they team up to defend the scroll, fight evil, and secure the love of a girl named Jade (Jamie King) for Kar.
 
For some, this movie might represent a guilty pleasure, but director Paul Hunter's epileptic style took much of the enjoyment out of it for me. He choreographs each action sequence like a music video on speed (not surprising, considering that his background is in the made-for-MTV arena), with so many edits that no single shot lasts more than a second. It becomes an exercise in concentration just to figure out what's going on, and the payoff isn't worth the effort. Boiled down to its essence, this is the same kind of special effects-enhanced martial arts combat that has become routine in the wake of The Matrix and Crouching Tiger. Once, a couple of years ago, it was fun and inventive. Now, after having been copied to death, it's boring. Filmmakers need to find a way to liven things up something that Hunter doesn't try.
 
Chow deserves credit for keeping a straight face as he mouths pious pronouncements about what it truly means to achieve enlightenment. The key to understanding the universe, it seems, lies in answering the following question: "Why do hot dogs come in packages of 10 while hot dog buns come in packages of eight?" That's something to ponder late at night, right after you're done wondering why you spent $9 to see this movie.
 
Everything that happens in Bulletproof Monk centers around the Monk's need to keep the "Scroll of the Ultimate" from falling into enemy hands. We are told during the prologue that the one who reads the scroll gains ultimate power. So, to keep it from being abused, why not destroy it? I guarantee I'm not the only one who recognized how stupid and pointless the entire movie becomes as a result of a screenplay lapse that could have easily been corrected.
 
Then again, logic and intelligence don't have much of a place in this picture. Bulletproof Monk is meant to be enjoyed for its exuberance, campiness, and all-around goofiness. Chow, Seann William Scott (Stifler from American Pie), and Jamie King are likable and look good in front of the camera. And, although Hunter's approach to the action scenes is tedious, the movie as a whole is rarely boring. A guilty pleasure? Not really. But the film is tolerable if you're a fan of the genre and don't have anything better to do.

BULLETPROOF MONK 2003 MGM Distribution Company
All Rights Reserved

Review 2009 Alternate Reality, Inc.

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