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Bulletproof Monk

  Bulletproof Monk
Seann William Scott challanges Chow Yun-Fat to a dance off.

© 2003, MGM
All Rights Reserved

The Monk (Chow Yun-Fat) is a Buddhist holy man who is sworn to protect an ancient scroll from the forces of evil, embodied here by a former Nazi (Karel Roden) who wants to rule the world with the scroll's powers. Finding himself in New York City, the Monk meets up with Kar (Seann William Scott), a streetwise pickpocket/film projectionist who doesn't want anything to do with the Monk and his all-powerful scroll. But the Monk sees potential in Kar to assume his role as protector and tutors the young fighter as they dodge trouble at every corner. They soon join up with Jade (Jamie King), a young martial artist whom Kar fancies greatly, and together they make a stand to stop the evil Aryans for good.

To understand why "Bulletproof Monk" (IMDb listing) goes so horribly awry, it must be acknowledged that this material comes from a comic book (ahem, excuse me, "graphic novel"). Now, with the Marvel gang heating up screens with their offerings, including "Spider-Man" and "X-Men," "Monk" doesn't have the iconic pedigree behind it. It also doesn't have a filmmaker guiding it carefully so all the ridiculousness (there is a character here called simply "Mr. Funktastic") and awkward behavior of most comic-to-film translations doesn't surface for too long. The filmmaker chosen for "Monk" is Paul Hunter, another music video helmer who has fallen ass-backwards into a feature debut that he cannot possibly handle. Hunter isn't confident with his filmmaking, leaving the film with a sickly look to it, and keeping the action relegated to cheap looking sets that bring to mind early-1990 video game cash-ins "Street Fighter" and "Super Mario Brothers." "Bulletproof Monk" appears to be a story that celebrates action and adventure, but maintains a calm Buddhist soul. Unfortunately Hunter doesn't comprehend the balance, and his artificial and clichéd style mucks up a story that should've been a rip-snortin' good time like all the other comic book movies seen recently.

"Monk" is also dangerously behind the times, and steals like mad from other, better films. I'm a little worn down by the "wire-fu" movement, and thought that we might be seeing the last of it, at least in "Matrix" type quantities. No such luck, with "Monk" providing unwieldy, and honestly nonsensical returns to this kind of fight choreography. I'm not going to go into logic too deeply, as this is fantasy, and should be treated as such, but the laws of physics that the Monk lives by are so slippery, it's hard to get a grasp on what he can or cannot do with his powers. The fight scenes themselves are atrocious, choreographed in a stagy "we spent three months rehearsing in a Beverly Hills gym" way that is unappealing to the eye. Hunter does these moments no favors with his chaotic and misdirected editing, which has characters appearing from out of nowhere, and makes their movements incomprehensible. The worst moment is a girl-on-girl fight between Jade and the Nazi's granddaughter, which is lifted directly from the knockdown, drag-out brawl between Cameron Diaz and Kelly Lynch in "Charlie's Angels."

Chow Yun-Fat is the only reason there's a glimmer of daylight in the murky "Monk." As the title character, Yun-Fat is at his usual charismatic best, showing playfulness and expected action stoicism in the role. Yun-Fat, like the rest of the cast, is stuck with a warmed over script that provides philosophy 101 bon mots for him to spout, and that's depressing. But he's Chow Yun-Fat: an incredible actor with unlimited range, who's also yet to find an American production worthy of him. With all the flying and fighting, "Monk" seems like a slap in the face to his intense, similar work in Ang Lee's "Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon." But once Yun-Fat smiles, or double-fists some handguns, that icky feeling of disrespect fades away.

In his first real "Anti-Stifler" role, costar Seann William Scott tries awfully hard to be an action hero, but the fit isn't proper. Maybe he'll have better luck in a straight drama, as his brawny performance in "Monk" is far too wooden and doesn't complement Yun-Fat's loose work at all. Scott doesn't generate many sparks with actress Jamie King either, with the petite former model looking pretty silly making kung-fu poses and flipping around on cables.

"Bulletproof Monk" gives action a bad name. It gives comic book adaptations a bad name. It gives large-budgeted, potential-franchise-movies-directed-by-former-music-video-wizards a bad name. For film entitled "Bulletproof Monk," this film is shot full of holes.

Filmfodder Grade: D-

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