Bulletproof Monk Movie Review

Another action-comedy clone in the now-formulaic genre that buddies mystical Eastern martial artists with wisecracking Western sidekicks, "Bulletproof Monk" squanders what little entertainment value it might have had by telling its story through bargain CGI effects, incomprehensibly edited fight scenes and cardboard characters.

Hong Kong shoot-'em-up legend Chow Yun-Fat (best known stateside for "Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon") plays a supernaturally lissome Tibetan holy man charged with protecting an ancient scroll of powerful mystical text from those who would misuse it for personal power. More specifically, in this movie he's trying to keep it from a decrepit ex-Nazi bent on restoring his youth and taking over the world with an army of helicopter-gunship-flying henchmen in suits and sunglasses.

To justify pairing the monk with an American apprentice -- the Chosen One who will take charge of the scroll when he dies -- Chow turns up in New York for no explored reason and is stuck with a smart-alec pickpocket played by Sean William Scott (best known as Stifler in the "American Pie" movies), who never relaxes his crooked, apparently permanent, "whoa, dude" sneering-smirk.

Along their way to The Big Showdown in the Nazi's absurdly elaborate underground torture chamber (where other kidnapped monks are strapped into high-tech brushed-steel Iron Maidens with flat-panel monitors that display their vital signs), these two slog through stock training sequences, fortune-cookie philosophy and lifeless yin-yang buddy comedy in search of a few rare laughs ("This is America. We don't have enlightenment here," cracks Scott. "We have Big Macs and strip malls.").

Mismatched at best -- with Chow running charismatic circles around Scott despite his broken English -- the stars still have more chemistry together than Scott has with love interest Jaime King ("Slackers"), who has little credibility as a mafia princess who poses as a street punk nicknamed Bad Girl.

The movie's ho-hum fight scenes -- which are often paused for combatant quips as weak as "You know, this is getting very annoying" -- are clearly under-choreographed and over-edited to mask the fact that Scott and King didn't get much martial arts training (she has a kung-fu cat-fight with the Nazi's granddaughter). The lighter-than-air wire-work stunts are an amateur-hour affair without any sense of grace or balance. The distractingly conspicuous green-screen special effects look like they were slapped together on an iMac.

And on a stuck-in-my-craw nit-picky note, the prophecy that leads Chow to mentor Scott in the first place -- something about the Chosen One fending off attackers while "cranes circle overhead" -- depends on the ethnocentrically half-witted notion that the Chinese word for "crane" (as in a bird) has the same dual meaning as the English word crane. That is to say, Chow knows Scott is his successor when he watches him fight some gang bangers underneath several winches and pulleys in a Manhattan subway maintenance warehouse.

This is something I might not have even noticed had "Bulletproof Monk" offered up enough excitement or amusement to qualify for check-your-brain-at-the-door status. But first-time director Paul Hunter seems to be working from some dry, do-it-yourself, culture-clash martial-arts movie textbook, and the assignment he's turned in is barely worth C-minus.


Comments

Bulletproof Monk Rating

" Grim "

Rating: PG-13, WIDE: Wednesday, April 16, 2003

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