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Bulletproof Monk

Ah, the dreaded Wednesday release. Sometimes it just means that the suits didn't know what to make of the picture, but usually it means that even the people that thought they had a gem with Half Past Dead know they have a dog on their hands. Based on The Flypaper Press comic, Bulletproof Monk is a perfect teaching aid for folks that want to learn a thing or two about film appreciation.

Every now and again I'll mention to someone that this film or that had a weak script or poor direction and they will say that they can't really tell what specifically went wrong with a film they didn't like. It's basically the same as if a doctor cut someone open and told me that the obvious problem was the liver. I'd look in and just see a thick crimson soup.

The reason I bring this up is that Bulletproof Monk is a perfect picture to see for an example of bad direction. Everything else is okay. Not great but okay. The cast, the script, the art direction, but the visual storytelling is so sorely lacking the whole thing just lies there and heaves like a meaty fish on the floor of a boat.

The story itself is nothing groundbreaking but could be the stuff of a fun 90 minutes. After 60 years of guarding The Scroll of The Ultimate, The Monk with No Name (Chow Yun-Fat) is on the lookout for a replacement to take over his job.

Of course, said replacement must fit some guidelines as to fulfill some prophecies and is found in the form of Kar (Seann William Scott). Kar has my dream living situation of staying in an apartment in the Chinese movie theater that he works in for an old Japanese guy (the incomparable Mako). Kar moonlights as a pickpocket and meets The Monk on the run; the former is running from the cops, the latter is running from neo-Nazi thugs that want the power of the scroll.

Somehow this awesome set-up isn't the sure fire cult hit it should have been. All the elements are there. Brash westerner gets caught up in the never-ending battle of the ultimate good vs. the ultimate evil. No, not Ninjas vs. Pirates I mean of course Tibetan Monks vs. Nazis. As much as Nazis are cinema shorthand for villain we can kill and not care about, the Tibetan Monks are the reciprocal of that, pure goodness. Yet the picture comes up short.

This brings us back to the direction. John Woo is on this thing as a producer and had the old master stepped in with this exact same script and cast he could have topped Willard as the best picture I've seen this year, but instead we are treated to the stylings of the man that inflicted the Lady Marmalade 2000 video on the world, Paul Hunter.

Under the foot of this brickfisted oaf, the story lurches along between poorly shot action scenes and poorly explained plot points. Granted, the whole thing oozes with the putrid stench of "cut down to PG-13" and mixed with the fetid odor of "cut down because it ran too long." The two mix into a bouquet that can only be called lametastic.

John Carpenter's Big Trouble in Little China is a wonderful film from an American filmmaker that has a deep love for the Martial Art picture genre. One feels that Carpenter injected his western hero into a movie genre he loved and had all the fun he could. With Bulletproof Monk one feels that Hunter is the kind of guy that calls pictures like Shaolin Master Killer "cheesy" and thinks that the only reason anyone would ever watch something on Kung Fu Theater is for camp value. Damn you, kitsch, you double edged sword!

The beauty of the Martial Arts pictures is the same as a Gene Kelly or Fred Astaire picture. No one goes to see Top Hat for the plot; they go for the dancing, which is what good movie fights are. When Fred and Ginger dance they aren't just dancing; they are choreographed to be making love. One partner moves and the other follows and they become one.

Movie martial arts are the other side of that coin. Two bodies are in direct opposition to each other. One moves left and the other blocks the attack and counters into the next. The beauty of film Martial Arts is seeing to styles of fighting coming together in opposition of each other and synthesizing a new movement. Just like when a two film images are cut together and that edit creates the idea.

Bulletproof Monk has none of this. The four main fighting parties include a well-trained Tibetan Monk, a pickpocket that is a self taught martial artist in the school of classic movie fighting, a Russian mafia princess and a third generation Nazi girl. The fact that no real distinction is made from one fighting style to another makes for the fights not looking like fighting but overly rehearsed choreographed paint-by-numbers fights.

When Gene Kelly or Buster Keaton or Jackie Chan moves, it never looks choreographed. It seems to be all improvised to just break out in dance or to leap from a building. Nothing is worse than seeing the planning and the strings.

Speaking of strings, this picture has some of the worst wire work I've ever seen. For all its problems, The Matrix properly used wires to make the impossible seem completely possible. On the other hand Bulletproof Monk makes the impossible seem really impossible and just a special effect, not an organic part of this fantasy world.

The cast handles itself admirably and that's really saying something considering I've never been anything but irked by Seann William Scott in the past. I'm not sure if it's the fact that he has three first names and I have a policy of not trusting anyone with two or if it's that extra 'n,' but I've always hated him. He brings the right mixture of badass and dumbass to the role. He may be the only one involved in this picture that saw Big Trouble in Little China, and while he's no Jack Burton, he'll do, pig, he'll do.

Chow is as always charming and enjoyable and I was most surprised by Jamie King (formerly James) who I'm told used to be a model and a Kid Rock Bracelet but actually pulled off her role while being pretty damn hot which is more than I can say for most action picture actresses I've seen lately.

I've avoided the comparisons until now but now I will bring up Daredevil, as it may be the perfect companion piece to this one. Lacking a strong leading cast and a good script, solid stylized direction and two strong villain turns made for an okay hour-forty-three. But with awful direction and uninteresting villains Bulletproof Monk gets dropped on the orphanage doorstep that is Wednesday, regardless of a superior script and cast.

What's It Worth?: $5

Jordan Rosa

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