Starring Chow Yun Fat and Seann William Scott
3 ½ stars
Bulletproof Monk, like Daredevil, is a nice dose of appetizer action. In the relatively quiet prelude to what’s shaping up to be summer of devastingly kickass action movies, these are smaller, cheaper action movies that can’t match the big ones for scale and power, but hope to provide some entertainment by taking their simple stories and doing them right.
Bulletproff Monk is based on a comic book, though not one you’ve likely heard of (it’s called Bulletproof Monk), and it’s quite comic book-y, with flamboyant silly characters like a gang of underground skags or sleek blonde nazi-women. But at the same time, it's not going for the full-scale superhero stuff we're going to be seeing in X-Men 2 or Matrix Reloaded or Hulk; if anything, Bulletproof Monk lowballs the kung-fu action.
If the cheapness shows, it's in the action. The first scene has Chow facing off against his master on a rope bridge, and the phrase that comes to mind is "chintzy-looking." It's still not a bad scene, and it sets the tone, but for viewers with images of the new Matrix trailer buzzing in their heads, it's a little lo-cal. There's also an occasional tendency towards bad, jarring editing that makes you kinda blink and pop out of the movie, even in the non-action scenes, so the action scenes themselves are a little less than lucid.
Not to rag on the action too much; they know when to linger on the good shots, even if the leadup is a bit scrambled, and even if the action isn't the reason to see the movie, there are still some good jolts of "whoa!"-eliciting coolness.
But the real reason to see Bulletproof Monk is that Chow Yun Fat can now speak English, which means for the first time American audiences who’ve only seen him in poo like the Replacement Killers or The Corruptor can get a glimpse of the Chow we’ve seen in the Hong Kong movies, a total movie star, a master of the cool and the comic.
Here he's the Monk With No Name, and he plays it great, subtle and lively at the same time. There's a not-inconsequential thread of Buddhist thinking that runs through his character, and it's not just a gimmick or surface affectation; it really shapes the kind of hero he is. He can kick ass, say “It’s not about anger… it’s about peace,” and mean it. He's strong, cool, funny -- Chow Yun Fat rules.
And not only is Chow finally getting a chance to show a little of why millions of Hong Kong filmgoers think he's the greatest thing ever, but there's surprisingly good chemistry between Chow and Seann William Scott, best remembered as Stifler from American Pie. Scott plays Kar, the young American thief who learns from Chow. In a lame movie, this relationship would suck and kill the film, but Bulletproof Monk pulls it off. “Ya got a little quickness in you,” Kar says to Chow, and he’s right. They both do. Yes, Kar is the brash American, but he's already unconsciously a fair way down the path towards Chow's philosophy, and there's a cool kinship between them.
There's also a romantic interest for Kar in Jamie King who plays street-kid/mansion resident Jade, and she gets some cool stuff to do, though more yummy is the evil Nazi woman played by the deliciously-named Victoria Smurfit.
And so, Bulletproof Monk is pretty tasty, like a plate of wings. It's
not going to blow your head off, you're not going to leave the theatre
pumping your fist and yelling "YEAH! YEAH! YEAH!" at the top of your lungs,
but you'll have a pretty good time.