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Bulletproof Monk Review

By Shawn McKenzie 04/16/2003

I had a bad feeling about Bulletproof Monk from the beginning.  The trailer was unimpressive, but I thought I might be pleasantly surprised.  Nada.


In 1943, a Tibetan monk with no name (Chow Yun-Fat) has just been given the ultimate responsibility to protect a powerful ancient scroll, called the Scroll of the Ultimate, from his mentor, the Master Monk (Roger Yuan.)  Anyone who reads the words on the scroll will have ultimate power to rule the world, and that could cause terrible problems should it fall into the wrong hands.  The protector of the scroll controls the power of time for the following sixty years, which essentially means he doesn’t age.  It also gives him the ability to have heightened speed, fighting skills, and healing power, so he is nicknamed the Bulletproof Monk.  Struker (Karel Roden), a WWII era Nazi commander of an SS unit, wants the scroll so he can wipe all the impure races off the face of the Earth.  Struker kills the Master Monk, but fails to capture the Bulletproof Monk or the scroll.  Fast forward sixty years to 2003, and the Monk is looking for a successor to protect the scroll for the next sixty years.  He has since moved to America, and the Nazis are still chasing him, though they now look like the bad guys from The Matrix.  One day, while in the subway, he saves a little girl who has fallen onto the subway tracks.  He is assisted by a pickpocket named Kar (Seann William Scott), who steals the scroll from him not long after.  While following Kar to get back the scroll, he observes Kar’s fighting skills against a local thug named Mr. Funktastic (Marcus J. Pirae) who is trying to shake him down.  He almost gets his butt kicked, until Funktastic’s girlfriend, Bad Girl (Jaime King), convinces him to let Kar go.  The Monk confronts Kar, gets his scroll back, and follows him back to his apartment, located near the Golden Palace Theater.  The Golden Palace is a movie theater that specializes in martial arts movies.  The owner (Mako) has hired Kar to run the projector, and the movies are where Kar learned his fighting skills.  The Monk convinces Kar to train with him, since he seems to be displaying the foretold signs of the protector.  Struker, who is now in his ‘90s, is still after the scroll, and along with his granddaughter, Nina (Victoria Smurfit), finally manage to get their hands on it.  Nina has been fronting her evil Nazi group under the guise of the Human Rights Center.  It is up to the Monk and Kar to get back the scroll, and they decide to utilize the aid of Bad Girl, whose real name is Jade, and it turns out that she is a rich Russian mafia princess and not a poor street girl.  The three set out to stop Struker and Nina before they employ their evil plan to rule the world.


I honestly don’t know who to blame for the poor quality of this film.  Could it be the screenplay written by Ethan Reiff and Cyrus Voris containing dialogue that isn’t witty or a story that isn’t interesting?  Could it be direction of Paul Hunter, a music video director making his feature film debut?  What about the bonehead who decided to rip-off the “flying” elements of Yun-Fat’s previous flick, Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon, except CGI effects were used instead of wirework?  The blame can be spread around evenly I guess, but the point is that someone screwed up.  How is it possible to have the cool Yun-Fat, the amusing Scott, and the hot King all in a movie together and it still ends up bad?


Let’s start with the script.  My guess is that Reiff and Voris were tired of the “bad guys” of the moment, the Arabs, and decided to go back to Indiana Jones territory and bring back the moldy-oldie bad guys the Nazis.  The Nazis is this movie are so clichéd that their scenes could have been outtakes of Raiders of the Lost Ark.  Struker also must have learned from the Karl from Die Hard school of electric shock survival (you’ll see what I mean if you see the film.)  Also, if Nazis think all other races and religions are inferior, why is Nina so skilled in the ancient Chinese martial arts fighting techniques?  As far as the dialogue goes, it was a waste to give Scott such unfunny lines to say.  He is a gifted comedic actor, and is capable of better material.


The action in this movie could have been so much cooler, but with the CGI, it looked very cheesy.  The opening bridge fight between the Bulletproof Monk and the Master Monk is so fake-looking that you begin to wonder why Yun-Fat agreed to do the movie.  This movie is beneath him, though there is a brief period that reminds you of his old John Woo movies.  One scene involves him using two guns, which is a throwback to his trademark Woo bit.  That one scene wasn’t enough to satisfy me though.


I am actually going to be more generous to Bulletproof Monk than I should be.  If they had picked different bad guys, had a better motive for the action, used wirework or real fighting instead of CGI, and had much better dialogue, this could have been a good movie.  Scott proved he could do an action film, and maybe he’ll star in a better one in the future.  Bulletproof Monk is a movie that just shot itself in the foot, and it will limp at the box office once the word spreads.  Sometimes those bad feelings you get while watching movie trailers can be right!


Get the soundtrack score for the movie composed by Eric Serra:

Get the Image Comics graphic novel that the movie is based on, written by Brett Lewis and R.A. Jones, illustrated by Mike Avon Oeming, edited by Deepak Chopra's son Gotham, and containing a forward by the movie's producer, John Woo:

Buy these items at

Ratings System:


Catch this movie at the theater if you can...

Wait until it comes out on video...

Wait until it plays on HBO, Showtime, Starz, etc...

Demand your money back, even if you saw it for free!

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