Written by: Ethan Reiff & Cyrus Voris
Starring: Chow Yun-fat, Seann William Scott, Jaime King, Karel Roden, Victoria Smurfit
There are those films you grow up watching that you’ve seen so many times where it gets to the point where you know essentially a piece of dialogue, music cue, and turn in the story. Watching them again feels like comfort food even if the quality may not hold up, which happens to be the case of me and Bulletproof Monk. A deeply flawed film, yes, but one I return to all the time for the fun it provides.
Serving as a protector of a scroll containing the power to control the world, a monk with no name (Chow Yun-fat) remains on the run from an organization led by a nazi (Karel Roden). With the 60-year term limit of this role running out, the monk runs into Kar (Seann William Scott), who despite being abrasive may have what it takes to be the next guardian of the scroll.
Beyond silly in almost every facet, Bulletproof Monk cannot in good conscience be considered a good movie but the number of times I have watched it growing up has allowed me to attach myself to it where the enjoyment I receive from it will never cease. Hey, if 80s kids can still insist they like The Goonies then I can say the same for this feature. A mix of being a kung-fu flick fighting against Nazis with one of the legendary martial artist actors in Chow Yun-fat and Stifler from the American Pie, what’s there not to love? Plenty, apparently as watching this film now shows the many glaring faults, which landed it the negative reputation it rightfully has maintained since its release.
With this being an ancient scroll with the ability to give ultimate power to anyone who reads the inscription within, the narrative lays the duty in the hands of Tibetan monks. It’s where the story begins with the guardianship being passed down to the monk with no name seeing as he must give it up in order to be the protector. This opening sequence builds up the lore of this protector role where the monk needed to fight a set of enemies with cranes above, battle for love in the palace of jade, and then save individuals he does not know. As with a presidential term, the monk needs to turn over the duties to someone else after 60 years wherein that time the protector will not age and only enhance their fighting ability. Fast-forwarding 60 years, the monk must now choose a new person while constantly on the run from Strucker, who he first interacted with 60 years ago.
With this scroll passed down from one monk to another, this story decides to have the passing of the torch occur between the monk and Kar, and with it comes some issues. The optics of this being passed on to a random white dude, who makes his money pickpocketing others certainly comes across as a choice. However, it only gets worse when it gets revealed Kar gave himself this name because he’s never had a family and it means family in Cantonese as he figures he’ll never be without one if he carries the word in his name. Another choice but the icing on top occurs when the monk corrects Kar on the correct Cantonese pronunciation of his name to which the young man gets aggravated. It doesn’t make for a good look for a man to take a name from another culture and then scoff when he’s corrected on how it gets pronounced in said culture. Kar as a whole signifies many of the issues in the film, but he also contributes to the absolute zaniness going on.
Bulletproof Monk gets absolutely silly to the point where it’s just pure entertainment as Kar gets the point of fulfilling the prophecy of being the next protector of the scroll as mentioned previously. For example, the first step where he must defeat his enemies while cranes flock from above occurs when Kar encounters a group of people living in the subway tunnels where there are mechanical cranes up above. You just cannot make this up including the leader of this group named Mr. Funktastic. If the entire sequence with this shirtless British leader of delinquents does not entertain you then there’s no hope.
Also working as a Kung-Fu movie, it has one of the greats in Chow Yun-fat teaching Kar how to be weightless in the air messing with the properties of physics along the way. Apparently, if you truly do not believe in the power of gravity to bring you down then it simply will not. While the fight sequences don’t have the fervor one would expect from a Chow Yun-fat performance, it mostly speaks to the mediocre directing of these sequences themselves. Kar’s subpar technique certainly makes sense seeing as he gets most of his knowledge from watching Kung-Fu movies and copying the moves. It’s all just ridiculously silly.
Ultimately, this film proves to be poorly made and weirdly conceived but where else are you going to have a de-aged Nazi take on a Tibetan monk for the power to control the world? If this is something you can vibe with then Bulletproof Monk might be just the movie for you just as it was for 12-year-old Josh when he first watched it.