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'Bulletproof Monk'

Only leading men redeem 'Bulletproof Monk'

Wednesday, April 16, 2003

By Ron Weiskind, Post-Gazette Movie Editor

Jackie Chan pretty much holds the franchise on successful martial-arts buddy movies. When he's not trading wisecracks with Owen Wilson in "Shanghai Noon" or "Shanghai Knights" (morning must be next), he's trying to get a word in edgewise opposite Chris Tucker in the "Rush Hour" films.

 
 
"Bulletproof Monk"

RATING: PG-13 for violence, language and some sexual content.

STARRING: Chow Yun-Fat, Seann William Scott, Jamie King.

DIRECTOR: Paul Hunter.

WEB SITE: www.bulletproofmonk.com

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"Bulletproof Monk," opening today in area theaters, finds Chow Yun-Fat and Seann William Scott trying to poach on Chan's territory. They are among the very few people associated with the film who avoid getting egg on their faces.

Chow portrays the Monk with No Name, latest in a long line of martial-arts holy men chosen to guard a scroll that invests anyone who reads it with the power to control the world. Scott portrays Kar (don't ask), a pickpocket who tries to steal from the monk and learns some life lessons -- if he can survive long enough to use them.

Some determined if ineffectual men keep chasing the monk on behalf of Struker (Karel Roden), an ancient Nazi who has been seeking the scroll for 60 years. The monk, intrigued by Kar, manages to get the young man mixed up in it. There's a woman, too -- Jade, aka Bad Girl (Jamie King, aka James King of "Pearl Harbor").

The screenplay is by Ethan Reiff and Cyrus Voris, who created the short-lived TV series "Brimstone." Let's face it: the last time aging Nazis seemed remotely menacing, Laurence Olivier was trying to drill Dustin Hoffman's teeth in "Marathon Man."

In "Bulletproof Monk," you half expect Struker to get his hands on the scroll and die from the excitement. But his decrepitude doesn't stop him from devising an elaborate set of torture machines designed to suck someone's brains dry. The preview audience actually hooted in derision when it appeared on screen. The screenwriters must have tested it themselves.

Chow, last seen in the magnificent "Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon," pretty much carries "Bulletproof Monk" along on the force of his charm and his presence, which are considerable.

Scott, whose credits include the meshuga "Dude, Where's My Car?" and "Old School," proves to be more than another haughty smirk. I enjoyed watching Chow take him down to size in terms of both his martial-arts skills and his outlook on life. But Scott holds his own in the personal moments, especially when the monk tries to leave Kar behind for his own safety, not realizing the younger man has no place to go.

In these scenes, I could swear that the characters were actually trying to karate-chop their way out of the movie's action stereotyping. If only first-time feature director Paul Hunter, a music-video veteran, had any idea how to cut the fight scenes so you could see the moves (but maybe then you'd see the stunt performers executing them).

Chow is the exception, of course. If he came out of this one with his dignity intact, he must be bulletproof.


Ron Weiskind can be reached at rweiskind@post-gazette.com or 412-263-1581.

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