Raymond Chandler had an axiom when he was writing his hard-boiled detective novels- “When in doubt, have a man with a gun come through the door.” This must be the only writing advice ever given to the scripters of the Chow Yun-Fat action film Bulletproof Monk, as the bad guys seem to burst in on the heroes at regular intervals for no other reason than to keep the plot moving along.
Asian action star Chow Yun-Fat portrays a monk who has given up everything, including his name to guard a mystical scroll that would grant its reader unlimited power. For the past 60 years he has been pursued by, Strucker (Karl Roden) the Nazi officer who killed the other initiates from the monk’s temple in his quest to seize the scroll. In modern day New York, the monk meets up with Kar (Seann William Scott), a small time thief who learned martial arts from old Shaw Brothers movies. Along with a rich girl looking for excitement (and who also just happens to know martial arts), the two race to keep the Nazis from discovering the secret of the scroll.
Yun-Fat turns in his best English language performance yet, imbuing his monk with a dry sense of humor and manages to establish a good chemistry with Scott. The pair establish a camaraderie that is enjoyable to watch.
Unfortunately, these two likeable characters are stuck in a story that doesn’t make a whole lot of sense. The lead nazi and his statuesque Aryian granddaughter are fairly one-dimensional. Although Strucker has devoted his life to gaining the scroll, we’re given no real reason why his granddaughter has joined in his mad quest. (And where are her parents in all of this?) Instead, the villains show up whenever the plot needs to be moved along. It seems that the writers have forgotten that the story should be dictated by the characters’ actions, not the character’s actions be dictated by the story’s needs.
As befitting a movie with this title, the fight scenes are immaculately staged by Wei Tung, who has also choreographed the fighting sequences in this past year’s Academy Award nominee for best foreign language film Hero (Set to be released in the United States in the fall). The film’s opener set upon a rope bridge over a deep chasm is an eye-opener that it takes the movie almost half its running time to recover from. Additional fight scenes involving a rooftop and a helicopter and another set on some scaffolding are impressive. If only as much effort had been put into the film’s story as they did with the action choreography the viewer might have been better served.