Cast: Chow Yun-Fat, Seann William Scott, Jamie King
don’t expect a lot from kung fu flicks. So when I say that Bulletproof Monk is atrocious, it's not because I expected a classic. I don’t mind that the story’s simple - Chow Yun-Fat is a monk on the run protecting a sacred scroll, and he picks up two hip young friends (Seann William Scott, Jamie King) to help him fight bad guys. What more do you need? I don’t care that the movie starts at a place called the Temple of Sublime Truth, or that they couldn't think of a better villain than a ninety-year-old Nazi. But even as chop-socky flicks go, Bulletproof Monk is worthless: it wastes even the limited talents and tiny opportunities available to it.
The only reason I watched it was to see the three stars. For a popcorn flick, this is a fun cast, and the worst part of the movie is that it finds a way to crush every one of them. The greatest tragedy is Chow Yun-Fat as the titular monk. Since you’re a proper cineaste you probably already explained to your date - really loudly, so the whole ticket line could hear - that Chow is, of course, Hong Kong’s answer to Cary Grant, the classy, handsome leading man who brandished a pistol in each hand in John Woo’s greatest films, such as The Killer, Hard-Boiled and A Better Tomorrow.
But Chow is not a martial artist: yes, he's in Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon, but you’ll notice that his ass-kicking is kept to a minimum. And even after a few years in Hollywood, Chow doesn’t speak English well, making him unsatisfying even in a role where he plays a monk who can’t speak English well. This makes his total participation in this movie a non-starter. Hearing him mangle the language after coming off so suave in his native tongue is depressing; and the action scenes are so heavily manipulated by computers that they’d actually look better as a cartoon. Chow spirals in the air and spins around on his heels as unnaturally as an action figure waved around by an eight year-old.
When the movie gives him some room, Chow is both affable and dignified: you can almost see some buddy film chemistry between the leads. And that brings us to the next problem, Seann William Scott. I’ll just call Scott "Stifler," and if you saw him in American Pie, that’s probably what you call him too. As teen comedy stars go, Stifler is hilarious. He's the kid who would probably goad and humiliate you all the way through high school - but it would still be funny, because it’s Stifler: big-grinned, lunk-chinned old Stifler. Stifler has always played a jackass, and the movies have never taken that away from him. He never has "changes of heart" or breaks out a heretofore-unknown soft side: instead, he gets humiliated, by drinking someone’s cum, getting a hand shoved up his ass or sitting under a shower of urine. Nobody can take a homoerotic prank better than Stifler.
It's not clear whether Stifler can function as a serious lead, without a bunch of other guys to play off of. But even if he could, he’s wasted here in a character that doesn't even make sense. One minute he’s a prodigal martial artist who’s prophesized to save the world, and the next, he’s a dopey, inept clutz. The fight scenes are sloppy - no cadre of stuntmen can turn Stifler into an action hero - and the old Stifler charm barely leaks through, even when he puts the mack on a girl or gets another man’s urine all over his hand; for most of the film he has to settle into the kind of earnest, introspective role that's usually plugged up by dullards like Keanu Reeves.
Last and most horrible is what they did to Jamie King. King is the hot-model-turned-hot-actress who livened up the last scene of Blow and whose wacky outfits and near-topless swimming scenes made the direct-to-video turkey Happy Campers almost watchable. What can I say? She's really, really cute. So director Paul Hunter makes King look drab and ugly: she’s dressed to look "street," with dire make-up and drab clothes that make her look as sallow as your little sister who just discovered black lipstick and veganism. To make up for her looks she's supposed to be a bad-ass who knows martial arts, speaks a dozen languages and lives in a mansion - but so what? She could be a gourmet chef and a submarine captain too, for all I care about her character.
If Paul Hunter had just left things alone - made a basic film where the three leads can interact, get in fights and exploit the chemistry we occasionally see spark between them - this would have been watchable. Instead, he races them through tedious plot points, gives us weak, cheesy fight scenes and relies too heavily on fake-looking special effects. The simplest joys are stripped out and replaced with Hunter's demented vision of a "stylized" action film. I'd have been happy to see Stifler sexually harass King, while Chow is replaced by someone who's willing to just fall off a building without a stuntman; I'd even be happier watching a bunch of nobodies just jump-kick the shit out of each other. Why would someone take a perfectly mediocore film and ruin it? Here's hoping that Hunter never gets another chance.
By: Chris Dahlen
Published on: 2003-09-01