April 2003
Bulletproof Monk

Reviewed by Brianna Hyneman

Bulletproof Monk
Distributor: MGM/ UA
Director: Paul Hunter
Producers: Charles Roven, Terence Chang, & John Woo
Screenplay: Ethan Reiff & Cyrus Voris, based on the Image / Flypaper comic book
Cast: Chow Yun-Fat, Seann William Scott, James King, & Karel Roden

Seann William Scott and Jaime King in MGM's Bulletproof Monk - 2003

Seann William Scott and Chow Yun Fat in MGM's Bulletproof Monk - 2003

Jaime King and Seann William Scott in MGM's Bulletproof Monk - 2003

Seann William Scott and Chow Yun Fat in MGM's Bulletproof Monk - 2003

Chow Yun Fat in MGM's Bulletproof Monk - 2003

 Chow Yun Fat in MGM's Bulletproof Monk - 2003

    

Music video director Paul Hunter makes his feature debut this week with the kung fu action film Bulletproof Monk starring Chow Yun-Fat. As BELLY proved for Hype Williams, the transition from super successful music videos to feature films is not always an easy one. Unlike Williams who stuck to the familiar in his urban drama riddled with recording stars and hip-hop themes, Hunter's flick is heavy on the suspended reality necessary for the high-flying exaggerated moves of a martial arts movie and way light on black people, mic checkas or otherwise.

Bulletproof Monk tells the story of a Tibetan monk (Yun-Fat) whose duty is to protect a powerful ancient scroll. Aging and in need of a new guardian for the scroll he comes to America and enlists the help of the self-taught karate bad boy, Kar, played by Seann William Scott. With the help of Bad Girl (Jamie King) they go about trying to defeat the evil Nazi (yes, Nazi) whose been trying to steal the scroll for 60 years.

Though Hunter's direction if formidable and he brings a rarely seen humor to Yun-Fat's monk, it is the story and character development where Bulletproof Monk fails. The writing team of Ethan Reiff and Cyrus Voris steer drastically from the original Bulletproof Monk comic series written by Gotham Chopra to serve up something more palatable to an American sensibility. Here, the Asian heroes become white (with the exception of the Monk of course) and the Chinese villains becomes Nazi. Spiritual heroism is replaced with a more Batman style heroism replete with Robin and Bat Girl. If it is for the love of the universe and spirituality that the scroll is protected then I'd bet the old Tibetans are prostrating in their graves. Throughout the film the monk talks about Kar's need for spiritual growth yet the only thing we see him teach Kar is how to fly-fight (ala The Matrix and Crouching Tiger Hidden Dragon). If Kar has a spiritual side then it is so hidden that by the end of the movie we're not sure why the young American hero wouldn't sell that scroll for a good night at the Four Seasons and a bag of chronic.

The Monk and Kar barely escape the stereotyped pitfalls of their co-stars and bit players but it is with the character Bad Girl that you wish the writers trusted our understanding and appreciation of Asian karate films and not only our pop culture sensibility. We meet Bad Girl as a street hardened member of a subway gang headed by a heavily British accented tough named Mr. Funktastic (yeah, I know). The next time we see her we learn that she's rich, lives alone in a huge mansion and is the daughter of a wealthy jailed Russian mobster. Her kung fu moves and knowledge of many languages (of course Tibetan) is courtesy of her wealthy upbringing. All of this is not told through story development but by way of a few lines of dialogue from Bad Girl as she explains why she chose to earn her "respect in the streets" as a gang member. Still, convenient for this type of story, the rich girl visits enough museums to be able to recognize the director of a particular museum as a Nazi bad guy. As well, the rich thing can replace spirituality should one ever consider selling that scroll. Bad Girl's character is flat and even lacking in the comic book humor that some of the other co-stars possess.

The verdict, mediocre. If there were more action scenes and some gratuitous sex scenes then, like music videos, we could possibly ignore the sand that this story is built on. But it isn't so until you get more to work with Hunter you're, er...stuck with black folks and MTV.