Like most films about people who know martial arts, “Bulletproof Monk” has a prologue set in Tibet, 1943, where someone is killed and a priceless treasure is stolen. In this case, it is an elderly monk who takes one for the team — a fact which caused me to remark, “That monk had two weeks left till retirement!,” and then laugh at myself — and the artifact is an ancient scroll that, if read aloud, will give the reader magic powers.
Another monk manages to rescue the scroll from the Nazi who wants it, and then we’re in the present, where that monk — magically un-aged, due to his possessing the scroll — is roaming the earth, looking for the Chosen One to fulfill his destiny and protect that damn scroll some more. This scroll needs a good deal of protecting, apparently.
This film, by first-time director Paul Hunter, is based on a comic book. Five years ago, this might have been used as an explanation for its dumbness, but now that we’re in the age of respectable comic book adaptations like “Spider-Man” and “X-Men,” that excuse no longer works.
“Bulletproof Monk” is not offensively stupid or anything; it’s just silly. None of it makes any sense, and its major mistake is in not more fully embracing its nonsensical nature.
The monk, who goes by the name Monk (Chow Yun-Fat), finds a pickpocket named Kar (Seann William Scott), who inadvertently fulfills some prophecies and thus makes Monk suspect he’s the Chosen One. And so the Matrix-style training begins, while simultaneously fleeing the Nazi (Karel Roden), who is now very old and thus even more motivated to obtain the scroll. The Nazi is also keeping Asian men trapped in his basement, where he has a machine that can sort of read their minds to see if they know where the scroll is. It seems like if he already has mind-reading technology, then pursuing the scroll too is just plain greedy.
Much of the wire work in the fight scenes is very cool. The film is snappily edited, probably to make it look more exciting than it really is; the trick works. Chow Yun-Fat is a graceful presence in any film, and even Seann William Scott does not annoy in his role as a slacker, which is a rarity for him.
I am heartened to learn that no matter what, there is always a hot chick on the good guys’ side and a hot chick on the bad guys’ side, and that they always eventually fight each other.
This is the cheesy sort of flick you used to see on a Saturday afternoon on one of the local television stations, complete with an ’80s synth-pop musical score. It is as earnestly dumb as any martial-arts film of decades past. If it had been filmed in Japanese and dubbed into English, I think that might have actually improved it.
C (1 hr., 43 min.; )