Bulletproof Monk

Bulletproof Monk (12A)

There are so many bad things about Bulletproof Monk that one should realistically leave the cinema hating it. Instead its quirky blend of mysticism, martial arts and humour just about saves it from becoming just another Hollywood action-comedy.

Based on the comic book of the same name, Bulletproof Monk boasts the talents of Hong Kong action legends Chow Yun-Fat and John Woo as star and producer, Hollywood funny man Seann William Scott, from American Pie, as the hero’s sidekick, and the energetic direction of first-time feature director Paul Hunter.

The story skips through the years as a Tibetan monk charged with safeguarding a sacred scroll is pursued across the world and through time by a Nazi who has sought the power of the parchment for 60 years. But while the Nazi, Strucker, is now aged, frail and wheelchair-bound, the nameless monk is still the young man he was in the mid-1940s. Such is the power of the scroll.

The monk journeys to America to seek the new guardian of the scroll and his journey brings him to Kar, a pickpocket who, to the monk’s astonishment, fits all the right criteria. With Kar as his protégé, the monk battles Strucker and his henchmen to protect the scroll and complete his quest.

With its Matrix-style stunts, martial arts straight from Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon and comedy, Bulletproof Monk never really knows what it aspires to be. The monk is a throwback to Kwai Chang Cain from TV’s Kung-Fu back in the ‘70s – a dignified, graceful and humourous enigma with a nice line in Confucius-esque sayings such as “Water which is too pure has no fish”.

Yet there is something deeply appealing about Yun-Fat and Scott’s odd couple, each man struggling to understand the other while, at the same time, finding a common bond of kinship.

Scott is a far better actor than the American Pie films have allowed him to be, and here he projects a more serious and physical side that will win him a new army of female fans. For the boys there are Jaime King and Victoria Smurfit as streetwise rich kid and Nazi bitch respectively.

Despite all of its disparate elements Bulletproof Monk does not quite hang together. The inclusion of a gang leader known as Mr Funktastic – Marcus John Pirae replete with cartoon cockney accent – and his cronies seems to have strayed from a totally different film, while there is no explanation given for Strucker’s amazing regeneration machine.

With more than a hint of the Indiana Jones movies Bulletproof Monk emerges as a poor successor to better films. Certainly Yun-Fat has never done anything in Hollywood to equal his work in Hong Kong, though his collaboration here with Hunter, Scott and Woo shows that there is reasonable work to be found in the States.

Still, I stick to the impression that, without computers, the fast and furious martial arts of the West are a poor comparison to the real thing of the East.

Star rating: ***

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