Bulletproof Monk

Movie Information

Genre: Action Comedy Fantasy
Director: Paul Hunter
Starring: Chow Yun-Fat, Seann William Scott, Jaime King, Karel Roden, Victoria Smurfit
Rated: PG-13

Yes, it’s silly and stupid. I can also add that it’s not terribly well made. The lighting is questionable, the editing is ragged and the process-work (oh, yeah, those monks really appear to be battling on a mile-high rope bridge) looks like state of the art, circa 1962.

Most of early reviews of Monk pummel it far harder than any of the blows delivered in the film — and not without reason. But who went to this expecting anything other than an agreeable mess under even the best of circumstances? The very teaming of Chow Yun-Fat and Seann William Scott suggested we were in for Dude, Where’s My Monk? or Crouching Stoner, Hidden Dude; the fact that we got anything else is little short of miraculous. That Seann William Scott (why doesn’t he double the “m” on William, too? It would be more symmetrical and no harder to remember which of his three first names goes where) was largely able to shed his screen persona for Monk was enough to keep my interest by itself. Not that any of this makes this mish-mash into a good movie — just a much less painful one than I had feared.

Monk is adapted from an underground comic (blessedly, they call it a comic book, not a “graphic novel”), and it pretty much shows. The film is serial-like pulpish junk, though that’s not necessarily a bad thing. It can even be agreeable. Here it’s mostly just passable.

Monk opens in 1943 with Chow Yun-Fat taking over from his master in Tibet the job of protecting the Scroll of Ultimate Power (which supposedly bestows the same upon whomever reads it aloud). Once Yun-Fat takes on this responsibility, he must give up his name (he’s not even up there with Secret Agent Man, who was at least given a number), becoming The Monk With No Name (insert requisite The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly music here). I suppose it’s only fair since these scenes also boast a nameless, scene-stealing simian (The Monkey With No Name or Billing). No sooner has Yun-Fat assumed the mantel of responsibility than the sleepy little monastery is invaded by (dum dum dum) …Nazis. (Some WWII scholar can drop me a line and tell me whether these bad boys ever invaded Tibet.) It’s remarkably unclear whether or not these evil Germans are there for the scroll or just to create mayhem and happen on the sacred docuent by chance. Whatever.

The head Nazi (Karel Roden, 15 Minutes) gets attacked by The Monkey With No Name or Billing (all the while hissing, “I don’t like monkeys!” with all the fervor of Peter Lorre in Island of Doomed Men), which then scampers off-screen, possibly to a less-embarrassing job. Our Nazi fares no better with The Monk, though he blows a hole in that gentleman, losing both the Monk and the scroll over a cliff. Or so it seems.

The story then flashes forward 60 years to present-day New York. (Why New York? I don’t know, nor do the people making this movie.) The Monk — unaged, since the scroll keeps you young till you pass it on — is looking for his successor and trying to keep the document out of evil hands. The successor is, of course, Kar (Seann William Scott), an immoral pickpocket. And the evil hands? You guessed it — the old Nazi gent, who now resembles a dried prune, is confined to a wheelchair and carries a bottle of oxygen. We can tell it’s him, though, cuz he has the monkey scars to prove it.

Assorted mayhem and amusing Mad Scientist jiggery-pokery follows, though very little of it is all that well done (some of it is alarmingly forgettable). I had to ask the person I watched the movie with what exactly became of the Nazi’s daughter (Victoria Smurfit, About a Boy) once the film ended (my mind wanders during lamely staged action scenes.) My personal favorite moment had to be when the Nazi propelled Kar through the air … smack into his elaborate electrical gadgetry. Rule Number One for Mad Scientists: Never destroy your own equipment by chucking your enemy into it.

If you want to know whether the scroll is kept out of the hands of the Forces of Evil, you’ll have to see Monk for yourself. And if you have to ask whether the scroll is kept out of the hand of the Forces of Evil, then you’re the target audience.

About Ken Hanke
Head film critic for Mountain Xpress since December 2000. Author of books "Ken Russell's Films," "Charlie Chan at the Movies," "A Critical Guide to Horror Film Series," "Tim Burton: An Unauthorized Biography of the Filmmaker."

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