**** (out of 5)
April 16, 2003
Chow Yun-Fat as MONK WITH NO NAME
Seann William Scott as KAR
Jaime King as JADE
Karel Roden as STRUKER
Victoria Smurfit as NINA
Directed by: Paul Hunter
BY KEVIN CARR
“Bulletproof Monk” is basically “Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon” comes to New York. Or, you can think of it as “Raiders of the Lost Ark” with a Buddhist monk instead of a swashbuckling archeologist. It begins in the Forbidden City of Tibet during World War II. The Monk With No Name (Chow Yun-Fat) has just been handed over the duties of protecting a sacred scroll that, when read out loud, will give its owner control over life and death.
Mere seconds after The Monk is given his mission, a German platoon storms the monastery to capture the scroll. The leader of the platoon is Struker (Karel Roden), who knows of the scroll’s mysterious powers and wants to use them for himself. However, The Monk uses his preternatural martial arts powers (ala the aforementioned “Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon”) to escape, leading Struker on a 60-year chase across the globe.
Now, The Monk has come to New York City, closely trailed by Struker. While in the Big Apple, he crosses paths with Kar (Seann William Scott), a slippery pick-pocket who learned martial arts by watching 1970s Hong Kong action flicks at the Chinese movie theater that doubles as his home. After a series of uniquely fulfilled prophecies, The Monk starts to wonder if Kar is the chosen one to replace him as the scroll’s protector.
Jaime King (whom you may recognize as James King from movies like “Pearl Harbor” and “Slackers” as well as a variety of Revlon advertisements) plays Jade, the love interest of Kar. Their relationship is pretty much forced in the film, especially in the beginning, although I will give the filmmakers credit that both Kar and Jade are critical to the plot of the film. At least King isn’t just thrown in because she’s easy on the eyes. (Of course, she could stand to eat something now and then considering her tiny frame looks like a light wind could knock her over.)
While I’ve been a pretty big fan of the Hong Kong action imports that have come to Hollywood (e.g., Jackie Chan and Jet Li), Chow Yun-Fat hasn’t been my favorite. His earlier American acting has simply fallen flat. Part of this may be due to his poor command of English. However, it is more likely that his acting style hadn’t caught up to him yet. While most Hong Kong actors tend to be extremely expressive and often overact, Chow’s technique has always been softer and more reserved.
This worked very well in the early John Woo films like “A Better Tomorrow” and “The Killer,” mainly because he provided a perfect foil for his overacting costars. When Chow started to appear in American movies like “The Replacement Killers,” his understated performance didn’t totally translate across the cultural barrier. Now, with some more maturity and a pseudo American film like “Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon” (which was a blockbuster in the U.S., but failed to bring in big crowd in mainland China and Hong Kong), Chow has developed his style a bit. He manages to be convincingly stoic, comical and powerful without delivering an over-the-top performance like Jackie Chan still does.
One aspect of “Bulletproof Monk” that did give me a guilty chuckle was Struker hiding in the least likely of places – a supposedly peaceful human rights organization. Was this an attempt of the filmmakers to pull a convincing wool over the characters eyes? Or was it a biting criticism of such organizations in the world, like the insanely socialistic Amnesty International?
Although this script was written many months ago, it’s hard to ignore the parallels between Struker’s human rights organization and the United Nations today, which is being strong-armed by the French and Russians (who have supplied massive military aid to Saddam Hussein as recent as late 2002) as well as the Germans (who have the worst tract record for human rights in the 20th century, hands down).
Seann William Scott does a decent job of playing the action hero, although he hasn’t quite made it to the A-list mega-action status that was enjoyed by stars like Tom Cruise, Bruce Willis or Will Smith. However, he does come a long way from the stock characters that made him famous – like “American Pie’s” Steve Stifler and Chester Greenburg from “Dude, Where’s My Car.” And he does this without thumbing his nose at his fans that helped make him famous.
Scott may have a shot at a future as an action hero. He’s really the only “American Pie” alum that’s climbing the industry ladder with any sort of grace. And “Bulletproof Monk” is a much, much better vehicle than his “American Pie” costar Chris Klein chose with “Rollerball.”