a critiQal film review Bulletproof Monk (2003)

Plot: In 1943, a Tibetan monk (Yun-Fat) has been chosen to protect a mighty secret: a scroll that will give anyone who reads it aloud ultimate power. For sixty years, this monk has been protecting it from Struker (Roden), a man intent on making the entire world over in his image. Now, this monk has come to America, and his hopes of saving humanity lie with...a pickpocket named Kar (Scott). He’s definitely got his work cut out for him.

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  • ...Chow Yun-Fat needs to work on his comedy skills and get rid of sidekick Seann William Scott if he wants to compete with Jackie Chan in action comedies.

So, a new movie starring Chow Yun-Fat, produced by John Woo, and co-starring…Seann William Scott (Stifler from American Pie (1999))? Huh? It seemed a bit absurd to put action superstar Chow Yun-Fat (The Replacement Killers (1998), Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon (2000)) together with Stifler, and I wasn’t sure if it was going to be able to work.

Because of that, I decided to wait until Bulletproof Monk hit DVD before checking it out. Now that it’s arrived on DVD, however, I rented it and sat down…just to see if this unique pairing would work out…or fall flat on it’s face.

Chow Yun-Fat, an action megastar overseas, has come out with a few hits since he hit America, and it’s been easy to see why he’s such a megastar there. His fluidity when he moves is something quite impressive to behold, and he’s been a great joy to watch because of it. He continues to show why he’s such a star here, and this movie actually helps with that, as well as detracts from it. The help that this movie gives Chow Yun-Fat comes in the form of Scott, who’s unfamiliarity with action films just emphasizes Chow Yun-Fat’s complete ease in action sequences all the more.

Scott’s memorable performance as Stifler does detract from the film, since this is more of a serious film than any of the films in the American Pie (1999) series were. It’s hard to watch him and not see him as Stifler, and remember some of the things that befell him in those films. That focuses the viewer’s attention away from the plot of this film, and helps keep the viewer slightly detached, and therefore not as involved in the storyline.

The storyline was interesting, and used the whole East vs. West theme that’s become so popular lately thanks to the success of Rush Hour (1998) and Shanghai Noon. The ancient traditions meeting American bluster is definitely nothing new, but Chow Yun-Fat embodies that ancient culture much more than, say, Jackie Chan, but he doesn’t seem to portray the funny side as well as Jackie Chan does.

The story, of course, does vary from the plot of a Rush Hour (1998) or a Shanghai Noon, but not far enough to really make it original. The special effects, however, were the biggest downfall of the film.

The special effects were very over the top, reminiscent of The Matrix (1999) or The One, but there was one major difference in this film. Those two films made the special effects realistic enough, that even though they weren’t really possible, you believed that the characters were able to do these things because of the storyline.

Here, while Chow Yun-Fat was able to suspend viewer’s beliefs, some of the stunts were so over the top even he couldn’t pull them off (such as in an early fight scene, when he does a complete circle with his toes while he is perpendicular to the floor).

And, Scott obviously is new to wires, and shows it here. Some scenes that Scott does, the viewer may not see the wires, but they obviously are there. He just seems awkward using the wires, and it’s incredibly apparent.

All in all, Bulletproof Monk comes in, sadly, behind Rush Hour (1998) and Shanghai Noon. Does that mean Jackie Chan is a better actor than Chow Yun-Fat? No, although Chow does need to work on his believability as a funny guy if he wants to keep making action comedies like these.

The truth is, Bulletproof Monk comes in behind those other films because Chris Tucker and Owen Wilson are more believable in their sidekick roles than Seann William Scott is in this film.

Maybe, it’s partly due to the audience remembering him so vividly as Stifler from American Pie (1999), or maybe it’s just because he’s new to action films. We’ll just have to wait for his new film The Rundown, with The Rock, and see for sure.

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