Bulletproof Monk
Grade: C-
Year: 2003
Director: Paul Hunter
Writer: Ethan Reiff
Genre: Comedy
Rated: PG-13
By Scott Spicciati

"Bulletproof Monk" opens atop the vast mountains of Tibet. A nameless Monk (Chow Yun-Fat) has just accepted the responsibility of safeguarding an ancient scroll that gives "the power to rule Earth" to whomever reads the complete text. But as his master informs him, mankind is not ready to receive this power, so it must be guarded in 60 year intervals until the time is right. Every 60 years, the scroll must be passed on.

We now move forward 60 years, and the Monk has landed in New York City (of all places) to find a new safe keeper. He runs into Kar (Seann William Scott), a smart mouth leather-jacketed pickpocket. Because he emulates karate moves from old kung fu movies, the nameless Monk deems Kar qualified to be the next scroll keeper and guardian of Earth for the next 60 years. When questioned by another monk as to why the first Monk would ever chose Kar, he confidently replies, "Pure water holds no fish." Ah, now I see.

As expected, Kar doesn't immediately buy into the whole scroll/global domination concept, but after a few scenes pass, Kar is ready to be the next guardian. Monk trains him in basic martial arts, which include learning how to fly and how to do back flips while dodging bullets. Monk and Kar soon befriend a girl who is only known early on as Bad Girl (Jamie King). Her true identity is hidden for awhile, but on the surface she is a street punk who hangs around an underground gang led by a guy named Funk Tastic. The tattoo on the Brit's chest reminds us of how badly the story neglected these characters.

The characters are so badly underdeveloped that the story resorts to comic book devices. While the film is based on the comic, it's not a comic book-movie like "Spiderman" and "Daredevil." But it tries to play like a comic book. Where else but in a comic book do you find a guy named Funk Tastic? Where else but in a comic book does a house fire make national news? Hence, we get a glimpse of the front page of the USA TODAY which reads, "Unknown Asian saves three from fire." This is how we learn the Monk is a good guy. If that's not enough, there's a scene where he rescues a young girl after she falls onto the subway tracks moments before the train passes.

Continuing on the list of contradictories, Monk won't eat a hot dog, but he'll throw someone out of a helicopter. Kar is a pickpocket with no regard for society, but he'll feed the homeless. Bad Girl associates with Fun Tastic, but she lives in a multi-million dollar mansion left by her Russian mafia-father who is currently serving time in prison.

It doesn't take long for a band of Nazis (literally) to find Monk, Kar and Bad Girl. The first Nazi lost the scroll to Monk's master, and now he and his Nazi granddaughter are after it again, 60 years later. The evil chick's name is Nina (Victoria Smurfit). She wears an evil looking leather gown and talks with an evil grin. She comes off so evil that in order to disguise her evilness, she becomes the president of the Human Rights organization. In preparation for Monk's capture, beneath the Human Rights headquarters is an underground lair powered by Nazi scientists and equipped with torture chambers and metallic chairs that must have been borrowed from one of the James Bond flicks.

The special effects are decent, but I didn't mind watching Kar and Monk defy gravity, especially since one of the proceeding trailers is a two-plus minute teaser for "Matrix: Reloaded." But don't expect Matrix-level special effects. Some of the shots look extremely cheesy, and most of the time, the camera is afraid to show us the entire stunt.

Director Paul Hunter doesn't clarify the film's genre. I've mentioned its resemblances to comic books, but it also tries to be funny using humor in the form of Seann William Scott being the Chosen One, it tries to be a serious action/drama as more than one scene shows a dead person's eyes being closed, and finally it tries to be a resourceful Jackie Chan-style action movie. In one scene, Monk is on top of a car kicking ammo magazines at Nazi thugs.

"Bulletproof Monk" embodies everything you'd expect from a B-grade action flick. The bad buys donít jump out until the hero's monologue is complete, you can't hear the helicopter outside your window until you look out of it, the villain's entrance is accompanied by a thunderstorm, and the master doesn't die until he utters out his last few words to his apprentice. Yes, this is a typical B-grade action movie, but the ridiculous story and everything that follows lowers the grade a few notches.

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© Copyright 2003. All rights reserved. Contact Editor: Scott Spicciati