Wedged somewhere in the wide divide between Asian tinged 80’s fantasy flicks such as Big Trouble In Little China and The Golden Child and more modern fare like Doctor Strange, Hollywood has always had a slight fetish for shoving unprepared Americans into a mystic world hiding just underneath ours. Sometimes it works; John Carpenter’s BTILC may have struck out at the box office but it lives on decades later as a delightfully deranged cult, but sometimes you end up with Eddie Murphy dangerously close to mocking various stereotypes as he fights ancient demons or some shit. Unfortunately, Bulletproof Monk, loosely based on a comic book you’ve most likely never heard of and financed off the back of the success of The Matrix and Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon, sits on The Golden Child end of the spectrum when it comes to the sub-genre of a smug, American dude experiencing a magical culture shock.
In 1943, nameless, Tibetan Monk (whom the film dubs Monk which essentially gives him a name) finishes his training with his master to find that he has fulfilled the requisite quota of prophecies to succeed him as the guardian of an ancient scroll. The scroll, when read, is said to imbue its reader with the usual stock abilities of enhanced strength and agility, not to mention eternal youth and advanced healing and before Monk can even settle into his new role the temple is attacked by German soldiers led by the fanatical Nazi, Strucker.
Escaping after his new abilities help him survive a gunshot wound and a tumble of a huge cliff, Monk goes underground for the next sixty years; staying on the run, helping the helpless and always searching for his successor that he can past the scroll onto.
That person seems to be Kar, a pick pocket with a heart of – well, not gold, but presumably some other metal that’ll buff up real nice if he could just manage to catch a break. Monk approaches Kar with this news only to get the inevitable scoffs in return but after thief witnesses some of Monk’s supernatural agility (while eating a bowl of Sugar Puffs no less) he starts to cautiously believe.
Making things a bit difficult is the fact that Strucker is still alive and even more determined to harness the youth-ing powers of the scroll due to the fact that he’s now an evil old fart who’s time is fast running out. Under the guise of a human rights organisation (Nazis, if nothing else get irony, I guess), Strucker has tasked his granddaughter and her army of goons to retrieve the scroll at all costs.
Meanwhile, Kar has fallen in love with Jade, the daughter of a Russian gangster who had been slumming with a street gang when he lifted her necklace for the purpose of having a reason to see her again. Can the trio of Monk, Kar and Jade protect the scroll before the crusty old Nazi can unlock its secrets?
There’s some movies that are super hard to review simply because they’re so dull it’s actually hard to find the words to drag out the review. If Bulletproof Monk were only just moderately a bit better or just out and out bad, you feel that we’d actually have something worth writing about either way, but as it stands, the movie has all the impact of listening to a hundred minutes of white noise, while stitting in a beige room and drinking a pitcher of room temperature water.
The plot is so painfully familiar I was surprised I wasn’t able to recite the entire film word for word on the first viewing and the film doesn’t add any new twists to the formula to keep it even remotely fresh. First time director Paul Hunter may have had a genuinely impressive list of groundbreaking music video credits long as your arm but on the strength of this, you’d think he’d have poorer vision than Matt Murdock in a sound proofed room; the film’s style is jerky and off putting and the action scenes are so clunkily put together (in both choreography and editing) that it’s a real chore to give the remotest if craps.
Maybe all this would be so bad if the gravitational pull of the twin suns that is the charisma of the two leads wasn’t on the blink, but the stilted direction and bland dialogue seem to have muted the likeability factor of our duo of charming stars. If Chow-Yun Fat and Seann William Scott combined can’t wring a single fuck out of the material then you know something is seriously off and matters aren’t helped by Jaime King’s high kicking lead whom Scott’s character has supposed to have fallen in love with on sight despite her only noticeable character traits being she can kick above her head and she misses her dead mum.
The film continues to throw you tbe occasion shot that’s supposedly meant to play up to Chow-Yun Fat’s legacy of kicking ass but it just all feels too weak – what is the point of having the De Niro of Hong Kong heroic bloodshed wield dual pistols if he’s only going to fire a single bullet from each of them? Probably the same point as putting the lead of Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon in wire fighting sequences that are blocked worse that a pre-school nativity play….
A movie that fails to entertain on almost every conceivable level – even on a so-bad-it’s-good one – Bulletproof Monk is an unfunny, unexciting action comedy that uses its mystic, Tibetan secrets to strains the patience while it puts you to sleep.
Bullet proof? Try fun proof.