Bulletproof Monk (2003)

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To the everyday world it appears to be just a mild mannered Hong Kong martial arts action movie, but when it slips off the disguise it becomes... a comic book film!!

Unfortunately, it’s a “comic book film” in the most derogatory sense of the term: idiotic, childish, and as thin and shallow as a movie can be. I had really hoped for better. It started out well — though with an awfully close resemblance to the opening of The Shadow — but as soon as the action shifted from Tibet during WWII to modern America, it rapidly turned annoying and stupid. To be exact, it turned annoying very soon after Seann William Scott (yeah, “Stifler” himself) appeared. As for stupidity, well, it just seemed to get dumber in every scene than it had been in the last. Under these conditions, naturally, it’s no surprise that the acting sucked. A script like this does a pretty good job of making all the actors uniformly bad. But Chow Yun-Fat was marginally more horrible than anyone else. I’ve seen better acting from Ahnuld! It’s almost impossible to believe this is the same guy who gave such a moving performance in Crouching Tiger Hidden Dragon.

The martial arts action also started out fairly nicely, though it did demand a tolerance for somewhat absurd wire-work... if you can suspend your disbelief as well as the actors are suspended, it looks pretty nice. But like the rest of the movie, it gets progressively worse: an actor will be floating backwards in one shot, then another camera angle will show him spinning like a top, then a third angle shows him settling to the floor with, once more, no angular momentum. And Chow Yun-Fat’s method of teaching his Stiflerian successor, who is named Kar (as in “Dude, where’s my”) how to do this basically consists of telling to close his eyes and go “I believe in miracles!” I guess it works like Professor Harold Hill’s “Think System”.

The music sucked too. At some points they even slip into a just slightly modernized version of the sort of ethnic-stereotype “Chinese” tunes that Hollywood used to embarrass itself with a couple of generations ago.

Addendum, 2006 : “Forgettable” is a word that gets thrown around a lot in movie reviews. Usually it’s hyperbole. But when I say that Bulletproof Monk’s plot is completely forgettable, I am being as literally truthful as it is possible to be. You see, the FX network recently broadcast the movie, and when I watched some scraps in the middle and most of the closing act, I found that I had utterly and completely forgotten the entire suspense plot: I had no memory whatever of the bad guy, the McGuffin he was after, any part of the final battle, or almost anything else in the movie except what I had written about in this review. All as completely forgotten as if I had never seen itbefore. Now that’s a forgettable movie.

(There can be such a thing as the opposite, an ultra-memorable movie. One example would be David Lynch’s Blue Velvet. I saw that movie just once, twenty years ago, and I can still vividly recall almost every scene.)

I had previously ranked this film just above Captain America. Now I have to move it below Timecop.