Bulletproof Monk 2003
I believe that this is the last movie on my list of relatively well known comic book movies that I never got around to before now. It’s still relatively obscure enough that it was more or less a bomb with poor reviews, but I had heard of this film before starting this site so that’s saying something. I didn’t really know anything about it except for the two leads. Apparently it’s basically a chosen one story with some wire work martial arts where Chow Yun-Fat teaches Stifler from American Pie to become a mini-Neo. Ultimately it fares quite a bit better than the other martial arts movie with an American Pie alum Street Fighter: The Legend of Chun-Li, but the special effects, direction and plot left much to be desired.
The one saving grace in this film is Chow Yun-Fat himself who plays an ageless and nameless monk who is protecting a scroll of ultimate power. The film jumps from his origin back in World War II to the present day where he’s more or less Yoda without the speech impediment. He stumbles into Seann William Scott’s Kar who is a thief with a heart of gold and the apparent heir to the scroll of power. Chow has the right sense of humor and nonchalant attitude to play as this older-than-he-looks monk with magic martial arts spouting banal words of wisdom. It actually works well playing against Scott with his overly exasperated moments match well with Chow’s ultimate patience. They also don’t go with the fish out of water motif. Even though the monk comes from the past, he’s lived in the world the entire time so he’s knowledgeable about the world around him while still speaking knowledge as a trained monk.
What doesn’t hold up as well is nearly everything else. This came out four years after the Matrix and yet there are enough generic-ed out homages that it feels like a pale imitation. There is one moment especially where Chow is explaining how he’s able to jump around the way he is and mentions more or less that if you believe you can defy gravity then you can. It’s a far cry from the “there is no spoon” moment, but it conveys the exact same message. And shortly after that, there is a helicopter shooting at the two main characters with an attached machine gun, and Scott even gets dragged across a roof with a cable. But instead of the extremely memorable and iconic scene in the Matrix, we get a very generic, dumbed down version of it with enough things changed so it’s not a direct copy.
The rest of the cast is generally ok with no real standouts. Scott is decent just because he plays well with Chow Yun-Fat. The mysterious bad girl Jade played by Jaime King follows a pretty predictable character arc. She’s the random subway gang leader’s girl who happens to like the bad boy thief with a heart of gold, ends up following them and of course the two get together in the end. There are a couple slights twists like how she’s a bad girl but also the rich daughter of a Russian mafia kingpin spending time in jail, and becomes the co-scroll-chosen alongside Scott at the end. There’s also Karel Roden (who was Rasputin in the first Hellboy). Here he plays the Nazi villain who shows up at the beginning to kill the Monk’s master and sticks around for 60 years trying to find the scroll which at this point he wants so that he can become young again. And as it’s the same actor in old age makeup, it’s pretty obvious that it will happen for at least a little while.
As a martial arts film, the actual martial arts are ok to mediocre. It starts off pretty poorly as we get what’s supposed to be an intense fight scene between Chow Yun-Fat and his master fighting on top of a rope bridge. Unfortunately, the compositing into the scene was so poorly done that the two actors absolutely didn’t match into the background at all. There were a few good moments here and there but none of the fight scenes were all that impressive. There was even another poorly done Matrix-esque moment where Chow gets shot at and has his own bullet-time moment except that all he does is slowly turn his head to watch the bullet pass by. There’s no extreme dodging, it was obvious that the bullet was missing him anyway, he just watched it go past in slow motion for some unknown reason.
There’s a lot going on in this film but it doesn’t really amount to much when it all comes together. There’s also what could be considered a Princess Bride homage with a torture device used by the villains to extract information from the monks using suction cup like tools that attach to the head and it runs via rushing water. There’s a subway gang that has no purpose outside of introducing the love interest, the villain’s main henchwoman is introduced via a humanitarian art exhibit for some reason, there’s an underground monk club slash safehouse in the city, and Kar apparently learned martial arts by imitating kung fu movies and that actually worked? It’s a chosen one storyline that’s been done a thousand different ways and many times better than it was here. Chow Yun-fat is always entertaining whenever he’s on screen but everything else just falls flat. Until next time, this has been Bubbawheat for Flights, Tights, and Movie Nights.