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BULLETPROOF MONK

Review by Gordon Justesen

Stars: Chow Yun-Fat, Seann William Scott, Jaime King, Karel Roden, Victoria Smurfit
Director: Paul Hunter
Audio: Dolby Digital 5.1, French Dolby Surround, Spanish Dolby Surround
Video: Anamorphic Widescreen 2.35:1
Studio: MGM
Features: See Review
Length: 104 Minutes
Release Date: September 9, 2003

“All you have to do is believe.”

“Believe what? That the laws of gravity don’t exist?”

“If you truly believe that they don’t, then they don’t.”

Film **1/2

If Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon had originated in a comic book, there’s a good chance it would resemble something along the lines of Bulletproof Monk. To better put it, this movie plays like Ang Lee’s masterpiece, with a touch of Raiders of the Lost Ark, translated to modern times, but with the camp level upgraded to monumental proportions. Right from the opening scene, the notion that you aren’t supposed to take any of it seriously is ever so clear.

I’d be lying if I said the movie wasn’t the least bit fun and enjoyable, but I’d also be lying if I didn’t say it’s made up of elements we’ve experienced in countless other, and much better movies, even if its origins happen to come from an underground comic book. The movie’s plot consists of the following; a Tibetan monk named, well, Monk With No Name (the ever graceful Chow Yun-Fat) must harbor an ancient acolyte known as the Scroll of the Ultimate from the forces of evil, and pass it on to a fitting candidate that holds the same traits, even if he or she isn’t aware of it.

The movie opens in 1943 Tibet, as the Monk is going through his necessary training of becoming the protector of the artifact. When his master is viciously killed by an escaped Nazi warlord named Struker (Karel Roden), the Monk must fulfill his promise and protect the scroll, which Struker is after. Cut to present day New York City, where the Monk appears after 60 years of hiding. Despite the amount of time which has passed, the Monk hasn’t aged a day thanks to the power of the artifact he protects.

It isn’t too long before the Monk crosses paths with a streetwise pickpocket named Kar (Seann William Scott), when he foolishly attempts to pocket the ancient scroll. After observing Kar in a fight with a gang of baddies, the Monk notices that the young hot head has some potential in becoming a likely successor when the time has come. In order to do such, three prophecies must be followed, and Kar seems to fit the job description from the Monk’s point of view. Of course, it takes some time for Kar to follow exactly what the Monk is getting at.

The prime joy in watching Bulletproof Monk is the byplay between Chow Yun-Fat and Seann William Scott, who qualify for one of the most unlikely pairings in cinematic history. The two stars have fun with their roles. Chow plays this sort of role so well, mixing his knack for wit with a superb sense of subtlety. As for Scott, this allows him to break free of his Stifler mode for once and try something new, and as a result, he does a rather strong job in taking on a more serious part, even though he is sort of the comic sidekick. The two also get some help from the very beautiful Jaime King, who serves up some whoopass, in addition to being the necessary love interest for Scott.

But with Bulletproof Monk being an action movie, you’d expect a lot of action. Indeed, there is non-stop action, but all of the scenes seem nothing more than reinventions of the fight scenes in The Matrix and Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon, though I did get a kick out of the opening training sequence on a rope bridge. Director Paul Hunter, a music video vet, seems to be applying so much editing and quick camera cutting to his action sequences as if he wanted to be known as the only source of competition to Michael Bay, who mastered this art of directing. Then again, it is Hunter’s first feature film, and overall he’s done a satisfactory job, most notably in establishing style.

So, it’s a mixed bag. There are elements of the movie that are fun and entertaining, but at the same time the action doesn’t ring fresh and the plot is a bit campier than it needs to be. It’s a close recommendation, but in the end, it just isn’t entirely satisfying.

Video ****

MGM flies into high kicking mode with this terrific anamorphic presentation. The film does carry a good sense of style with it, and the detailed image on the disc conveys this notion a hundred percent. Picture quality is as stunning as it gets, whether the scene is in a light or dark setting, and colors are as nicely rendered as expected.

Audio ****

A movie that has endless action is sure to trigger a strong response in the sound department, and Bulletproof Monk is no exception. Loaded with a banging’ 5.1 track, the surround sound quality is that of an undying presence, taking advantage of all the surrounding capabilities in both action cues and music numbers, for which there are both unlimited doses of. This one is sure to get your system going right from the get-go.

Features ****

MGM digs into their Special Edition goods with another outstanding package. First off, there are two commentary tracks, one with director Paul Hunter and producers Charles Roven and Douglas Segal, and one with writers Ethan Reiff and Cyris Voris. Also featured are 5 making-of featurettes called “The Tao of Monk”, and an additional documentary titled “The Monk Unroabed”, which focuses on the comic book roots. In addition, there are deleted scenes and an alternate ending, both with optional commentary, a photo gallery, and a trailer gallery.

Summary:

In short, I feel that Bulletproof Monk would have soared if the action seemed more original, and not so much borrowed from other movies. But the actors’ chemistry save it from being entirely disposable.