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Bulletproof Monk


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Movie Review

It’s 1943 and a group of Tibetan monks have started an anti-reading campaign. Mind you, they’re not against literacy in general. They simply don’t want anyone peeking at one particular scroll. Dubbed the Scroll of the Ultimate, it will grant the person who recites from it enough power to rule the entire world. The problem is that a certain Nazi named Struker has become very interested in improving his reading skills. He and his goons storm the quiet mountaintop monastery where the scroll is hidden, slaughtering everyone in sight, but to no avail. A lone Monk escapes with the document. Now, this Monk isn’t any ordinary monk. He’s a thrice prophesized guardian infused with mystical power and lasting youth whose sole goal is to keep prying eyes away from the scroll’s contents. Fast forward to 2003. While dodging through a subway trying evade Struker’s goons (the now geriatric Nazi is nothing if not persistent), the Monk quite literally bumps into Kar, a streetwise pickpocket who’s running from police. The chance encounter provides a distraction and the two escape from their pursuers, saving a young girl’s life in the process. Many wouldn’t give a second thought to the aimless grifter, but the Monk sees a spark of virtue in this young criminal. Could it be that he’s found an ally in the fight against Struker?

positive elements: The Monk regularly shows mercy to others. While being pursued he frees a young girl’s foot from a subway track. He hides a young boy from the Nazis when they attack the monastery. He even returns wallets that Kar has stolen. Kar himself feeds a hungry beggar a hot dog. A street girl-cum-millionaire Mafia heiress named Jade questions the actions of a human rights organization that is showing pictures of violent atrocities, worried that they might prompt future brutalities. (An absorbing point, especially if one applies her logic to popular entertainment and TV news.) The Monk shows a great deal of faith in Kar’s personal potential, despite the fact that others want to write off the pickpocket. Unabashed hunger for power is denounced by showing its effect on the evil and insatiable Struker.

spiritual content: Bulletproof Monk serves up a mishmash of Buddhist and Taoist spirituality, with a hearty helping of plain old mysticism for good measure. The Monk says he believes in universal truth, something he claims is found in Eastern religious beliefs. While training Kar for battle, the Monk tells him that he must learn "the unity of opposites." He recounts to Kar how he studied with the gurus of Kashmir and alludes to the Buddhist belief that "reality" is nothing more than an illusion (he tells Kar that he can nullify gravity’s effect if he simply believes it doesn’t exist). Much of the action in the movie is based on the outworking of this principle: The Monk and Kar flip, spin and pinwheel by bending the "laws" of nature. Merely by reading the words of the scroll out loud a person can be granted incredible power. The Monk became the scroll’s guardian by fulfilling three prophesies and was thereafter imbued with healing properties and vigor for 60 years.

sexual content: Jade urges her gangbanger "boyfriend" to quit attacking Kar by saying that fighting makes her hot. Later the two kiss passionately while she uses a chain to bind his hands (when she's done, she leaves him tied up). He complains that she always leaves when he’s ready for sex. She quips, "You know I’m worth waiting for." Struker’s granddaughter, Nina, examines the Monk’s tattoos, an exercise that leads her to unbutton his shirt and pants (only his upper torso is seen). A fight between an amorous Kar and Jade takes on intentionally sexual tones. When Kar rebuffs the Monk for offering him romantic advice, the Monk wryly states, "I wasn’t born a monk." Jade wears a number of less-than-modest outfits.

violence and gore: Frantic fisticuffs and lots of gunplay. The film opens with a combat exercise conducted over a chasm. The Monk’s mentor is riddled with automatic weapons’ fire. A Nazi is used as a human shield. Tibetan monks are mowed down offscreen. Intense hand-to-hand combat often leaves opponents with bloodied faces. Combatants pull knives, grab staves and brandish iron pipes. Several bad guys have their necks broken. People are shot at close range (a somewhat gory scene shows a slug magically exiting a body). One person is impaled by a falling statue and another is almost dragged off a rooftop by the cords attached to a plummeting satellite TV dish. Nina strangles a man. Hyperkinetic chase scenes transpire. A gang member threatens to cut off Kar’s genitals. The Monk shoots pursuers and throws a man from a helicopter. One man bites another on the leg. Torture scenes include beatings and images of needles piercing skulls. A tunnel-crawling Kar gets swept away by a rush of water. Superhuman fighters throw their opponents through walls. A man plunges from a roof and is electrocuted by power lines on the way down.

crude or profane language: Around 30 profanities, of which almost a dozen are the s-word. God's name is abused several times; Jesus’ once. There are uses of crass slang (for male genitalia and for women) and crude terms ( "p-ss off," "bloody"). A blow-up dummy makes an obscene gesture.

drug and alcohol content: Struker smokes and offers alcohol as a gift. Gangsters drink hard liquor during a party. Kar sips a beer.

conclusion: Bulletproof Monk has at least one remarkable feature: its curious and memorable name. But it may not be enough to save it from box office oblivion. Unlike its title, there's nothing unique or especially creative about this Monk, which borrows liberally from a whole host of prior martial arts and adventure flicks. Stunts defy gravity and otherwise infringe upon the laws of physics à la Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon. Skulking agents and slo-mo slugs seem stolen from The Matrix. Hard-nosed brawls in which anything and everything become weapons recall The Transporter. There's even a Raiders of the Lost Ark-style Nazi bent on establishing world domination through the mystical powers of a religious artifact. The only way in which this comic book adaptation sets itself apart is through its overtly religious tone. (And that's not a compliment.) "I don’t read a lot of comic books, but [Bulletproof Monk] was different," says producer Terence Chang. "The spiritual aspect of the story greatly appealed to me." It won't appeal to Christian families looking for bulletproof entertainment.


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Chow Yun-Fat as The Monk With No Name; Seann William Scott as Kar; Jamie King as Jade; Karel Roden as Struker; Victoria Smurfit as Nina


Paul Hunter





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Loren Eaton

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