Rating: 1.5 Stars
The following review contains spoilers.
For some reason, some joker wrote a scroll that, when read out loud, gives the reader the power to take over the world. Rather than burn it, a group of monks guard it with their lives, with one particular monk—who must first fulfill three prophecies—given special powers and extended life in order to protect it. He’s not technically bulletproof, but he can survive gunshot wounds, so good enough. Anyway, every 60 years the monk can pass it off to a new monk, and our current monk (henceforth: Monk), has been traveling the world, hiding the scroll from an obsessed Nazi, and now finds himself in New York City.
Also in New York is Kar, a pickpocket with a heart of gold, and a self-taught fighter from watching old martial arts film at the theater where he lives and works. For some reason, the Monk comes to believe that Kar could be the chosen one to take on his burden and starts following him around and trying to teach him a few things. Meanwhile, the now elderly Nazi and his giant organization of hired thugs have entered New York under the guise of a Human Rights Organization (dark!) and are in hot pursuit of the Monk and his scroll.
I thought Seann William Scott would not be believable as someone who is good at fighting, but I think I could actually buy it if the movie was better.
Some of the action beats in the final fight against the Super Nazi (he is now super because he read part of the scroll) were actually all right.
So when I saw Aquaman, I thought for sure they were building up to a twist where it would be revealed that Mera was actually the chosen one, given how blatantly more competent she was than Aquaman in every way. It seemed so obvious to me I didn’t think it was even a twist. Anyway, they didn’t do that. In Bulletproof Monk, there is a girl named Jade who is Kar’s love interest, and she also knows martial arts, and also technically fulfills the three prophecies, and though at the end it seems like her part in the film’s events will be ignored, the scroll actually chooses to split its power between the two of them, giving her an equal role in its ongoing protection. So if nothing else you can say that Bulletproof Monk treats its female lead better than Aquaman.
The dialogue is so badly written that I think I may have groaned aloud a few times. The directing and editing are so bad that the majority of the fight scenes are dull and hard to follow, with no shot held long enough to really get a sense of what’s happening.
Jaime King is terrible as Jade. Chow Yun-fat, an objectively good actor, is terrible as the Monk. He seems completely checked out and his character is mostly a dead-eyed smirk.
A large chunk of the first act is about how Kar has run afoul of Mister Funktastic, an improbably glamorous Australian gang leader, who wants Kar to pay him a tribute if he’s going to pickpocket in Funktastic’s territory. It’s absolutely awful and starts the movie off on a terrible foot. It’s the most 90s thing I’ve ever seen and this movie came out in 2003. And then, which you’d think would be a good thing but honestly makes the whole thing worse, Mister Funktastic literally never shows up or is mentioned again. Why? Why any of this?
There is a runner about Kar needing to learn a lesson about life or something in which the Monk asks him to explain why hot dogs come in 10-packs but hot dog buns come in 8-packs. This is I’m pretty sure some terribly hacky stand-up bit from the 80s, and I’m not certain it was even still true in 2003 (last time I bought hot dogs it was a 7-pack). Also, it makes no sense, and the movie ends with Kar finally explaining what he’s learned, which is gibberish.
“So, I figured it out. Why hot dogs come in packages of ten and hot dog buns come in packages of eight. See, the thing is, life doesn’t always work out according to plan so be happy with what you’ve got, because you can always get a hot dog.”
And everyone just nods and smiles like this is anything. This is nothing.