April 24, 2003

Stifler's Monk

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Its difficult to shake the image of Sean William Scott as Stifler, no matter how hard one tries. Just thinking of Stifler reaching enlightenment saps tremendous credibility from an otherwise, well, incredible film in Bulletproof Monk, an adaptation of an obscure comic that tells the story of an immortal Tibetan monk who must pass on the secrets of enlightenment held within a sacred scroll.

Scott stars as Kar, a rebellious young pickpocket who trolls the streets of some generic city by day while serving as a reel technician in a sketchy Chinese movie theater, the Golden Palace, at night. One day, while running from cops after attempting to rob an undercover officer, Kar finds himself helping a nameless do-gooder (Chow Yun-Fat) free a young girl who got her leg stuck under a subway track. Following this event, the do-gooder decides that he sees a special “potential” in Kar, and spends the next several days following the young thief around, trying to get through to him. The only catch is that our nameless do-gooder, actually the protector of a sacred Tibetan Buddhist scroll, is under constant pursuit by a band of thugs employed by the monk’s old nemesis, a Nazi named Strucker.

After dragging Kar along while being chased by Strucker’s thugs, the monk decides that it is no longer fair to continue to put him through it. Except at this point, Kar predictably decides that its now his duty to continue helping the monk fight Strucker’s thugs.

So, Kar, the monk, and the requisite pretty girl, Jade (James King), fight off the Strucker army while Strucker reads the majority of the scroll to reverse 60 years of aging, and manage to successfully kill Strucker at the last minute. Having fulfilled the prophecies of beating an army of enemies, winning love in the palace of Jade, and saving unknown brothers, the enlightenment of the scroll is passed on to Kar and Jade.

While the Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon-esque fighting was pretty cool, Bulletproof Monk lacks any plot to speak of. There’s a lot of combat, both hand-to-hand and of the firearm variety, none of which seems to make a lot of sense. When not contradicting the story, the fighting seems to serve more to provide action than to contribute anything positive. And it’s absolutely impossible to avoid the overwhelming sense that you’ve seen this movie at least 50 times before.

Chow is awkward, which is ironic because the temperament of his character is meant to be calm and serene. Needless to say, he is not very successful at conveying serenity. And try as I might, I was entirely unable to see Scott in a light other than that of Stifler. With just about every thing he did, I pictured him as Stifler, or the kid from Road Trip, or the stoner from Dude, Where’s My Car?, but certainly not as someone in line for eternal enlightenment. See what typecasting can do?

In fairness, though, Bulletproof Monk does grab your attention. At times, I even found myself teetering on the edge of my seat, although I could pretty much predict precisely what was going to happen next. Even though this was far from a classic, I can definitely think of worse ways to spend two hours. See below.

Archived article by Owen Bochner