Bulletproof Monk

Apr 23, 2003 at 12:00 am

Geezer: 2 1/2 stars
Weezer: 1 1/2 stars

Bulletproof Monk finds John Woo-veteran and world-class heartthrob Chow Yun-Fat (now nearing 50) in yet another action vehicle — this time playing a nameless Tibetan monk charged by his former master with guarding an ancient scroll from anyone who might want to use its unlimited powers. As the story begins in 1942, a squad of Nazis, led by a maniacal commander named Strucker (Karel Roden), tries to steal the object from a monastery high in the Himalayas. The Monk with No Name saves the day (and humanity), but finds himself pursued by Strucker for 60 years to a final showdown in San Francisco. Since whoever possesses the scroll ceases to age, the monk’s face and body don’t change, while Strucker gets more desperate as his faculties wither one by one. The monk, who’s seeking to pass his responsibility on to a disciple, bumps into Kar (Seann William Scott), a punk pickpocket who also practices martial arts while watching movies in a rundown Chinese theater.

Geezer: This is Paul Hunter’s first feature. His only other directing credit is a Mariah Carey music video.

Weezer: That makes sense.

Geezer: He mythologizes Buddhism and at the same time uses Buddhist ideas in interesting and funny ways. One part that bothers me is that the “enlightenment” of Kar seems just too easy. He achieves this kind of fast-food awakening, as does his young girlfriend, Jade (Jamie King), although she’s obviously been working at it longer than he has.

Weezer: In the context that the film sets up, the monks are all about discipline and years of hard work. For 60 years, the nameless monk carries his burden and is supposed to train someone to guard it for another 60 years. But instead, we get Kar’s transformation in a couple of days. All of that goes against the grain of Buddhism. There aren’t any get-rich-quick schemes in Buddhism — there’s no enlightenment in a box.

Geezer: … although I did have fun watching this flick. The koan about the hotdogs and the buns is very funny, especially the way it’s realized at the end. And my favorite scene was the fight between Kar and the monk that turns into a training session — it’s reminiscent of a scene in Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon, where Chow is fighting a feisty young woman while lecturing her on her attitude.

Weezer: This movie’s formula has been overdone and is wrong to begin with. It’s the same Rush Hour-Shanghai Noon, East-meets-West set-up, pairing the cocky, loudmouthed American with the Asian who knows about honor and respect, who is disciplined and has all these secrets that he’s actually teaching the American, whether he knows it or not.

Geezer: If you compared them, you’d have to say that The Karate Kid gives a much better idea of what training and practice are about. Bulletproof Monk doesn’t have time for anybody to paint a fence.

Weezer: The reason this movie isn’t a complete waste is that Chow Yun-Fat as a Buddhist master is cool. He brings something different than Jackie Chan, who brought martial arts and a perspective on the West, but he never brought Buddhist teachings. And here the East-West relationship is cool, because Buddhism is funny. It doesn’t take itself too seriously.

Some of the action sequences are fun — but after The Matrix and Crouching Tiger, filmmakers seem to need to outdo themselves each time out. Here they really stretch to make the fight scenes interesting, with all these flips and spins. Even when the two women fight — they’re supposed to be regular people, but they’re jumping around, flying … So, OK, who doesn’t fly? It’s like everyone’s a Buddhist master here.

And the Buddhism betrays itself: To see the young heroes, Kar and Jade, decked out in leather at the end? What, eight cows died so you can look like bad-asses? C’mon, let’s fully read into Buddhism here. Let’s not just skim the surface. They take the fighting and ability to walk on air and leave the teachings in the dirt. Kids my age, most of them don’t know enough about Buddhism to see the betrayal, but you’re marketing Chow Yun-Fat, you’re marketing to teen appeal with Seann William Scott and the attractive Jamie King, and you stab Buddhism in the back.

Geezer: In action movies, every religion, every discipline leads to the same destination, to finding another way to have super powers so that you can kick more ass. And in that sense, they misunderstand martial arts.

Weezer: Without the meditation and self-discipline, kung fu, karate, whatever, just becomes learning how to punch a guy in the face. And that’s not the point.

Geezer: From our discussion, I’ll have to rethink my rating down to two and a half stars.

Weezer: If you gave this movie three stars and published it in the paper, I’d have to drop my last name.

George Tysh (Geezer) is the Metro Times arts editor. Bruno Tysh (Weezer) is a high school senior. E-mail them at [email protected].