September 16, 2003


First, let me concede right off the bat that this isn't a great movie, nor even a really good one, but it is a good enough one. And it has a couple of redeeming features: (1) Chow Yun-Fat; (2) a series of surprisingly conservative themes. As for Chow Yun-Fat, suffice it to say that he perennially finishes in the Top 5 on our "Men Who We'd Not Have To Kill Ourselves If We Were Sent to Prison and They Made Us Their Bitch" List. Here he plays the monk of the title, a Tibetan Buddhist who is anointed, in 1942, by his master as the new defender of the Scroll of the Ultimate, a text of secret wisdom, which were it ever to be read would provide ultimate power to its reader. As the figurative torch is passed and the master rapidly ages 60 years, the scroll having kept him young while he guarded it, their Temple of Sublime Truth is attacked by Nazis, led by the vile Strucker (Karel Roden), and the monk--his character renounces his former identity and becomes nameless--discovers he has become bulletproof.

The story now flashes forward sixty years, to modern America, where the monk--who is still being pursued by Strucker and now by his granddaughter Nina (Victoria Smurfit)--almost immediately loses the scroll to a pickpocket named Kar (Seann William Scott). When he retrieves the scroll, the monk is disconcerted to find that Kar appears to fulfill certain prophecies about who will be the next guardian. Add in a love interest for Kar, in the form of an armed and dangerous Russian mobster's daughter (Jaime King), and you can pretty much write the rest of the movie yourself.

Chow Yun-Fat easily dominates the screen in a role that sort of does a cockamamie take on his character from Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon. He's sly, even sardonic, and though he's a spiritual soul his faith isn't heavy-handed. When Kar becomes his disciple the zen koan he has him ponder is: "Why do hot dogs come in packages of 10 while hot dog buns come in packages of eight?" Meanwhile, Seann William Scott has a goofy charm and at least holds his own as Kar. Together the two have the easy chemistry that makes or breaks any buddy picture, which this essentially is. If this were all there were to the movie it would be watchable, but nothing more. It's elevated though by the ideas that underlie the story.

Begin with the fact that the scroll is considered to contain knowledge that mankind is too immature to deal with yet. This goes against the grain of an age where every kind of scientific horror is justified in the name of the quest for knowledge. Next, we have the mystical powers of the monks, which are deliciously anti-rational. Then too, the monk is able to appeal to Kar to give up his life of crime because it does not represent his true nature, is violative of the good within him. This treatment of good and evil as real things would be rejected as absurd by secular intellectuals. There's more, but one especially nice touch is that Strucker uses a Human Rights organization as a front for his neo-Nazi schemes. How very un-PC of the moviemakers.

So, there's an awful lot here to like, but, in truth, it never quite gels. The whole is truly less than the sum of its parts. Still, I liked the parts well enough to enjoy the film and if you approach it on its own terms, you're likely to enjoy it too.

-INFO: Bulletproof Monk (2003) (
-FILMOGRAPHY: Paul Hunter (
-FILMOGRAPHY: Chow Yun-Fat (
-FILMOGRAPHY: Seann William Scott (
-REVIEW ARCHIVES: Bulletproof Monk (
-REVIEW ARCHIVES: Bulletproof Monk (
-REVIEW ARCHIVES: Bulletproof Monk (MetaCritic)
-REVIEW ARCHIVES: Bulletproof Monk (Film Forum)
-REVIEW: of Bulletproof Monk (James Berardinelli)
-REVIEW: of Bulletproof Monk (Roger Ebert, Chicago Sun-Times)
-REVIEW: of Bulletproof Monk (US Conference of Catholic Bishops)
-REVIEW: of Bulletproof Monk (Michael Elliot, Movie Parables)
-REVIEW: of Bulletproof Monk (Plugged In: Focus on the Family)
-REVIEW: of Bulletproof Monk (David DiCerto, Catholic News Service)
-REVIEW: of Bulletproof Monk (Frederic and Mary Ann Brussat, Spirituality & Health)
-REVIEW: of Bulletproof Monk (Holly McLure, Crosswalk)
-REVIEW: of Bulletproof Monk (A.O. Scott, NY Times)
-REVIEW: of Bulletproof Monk (Stephen Hunter, Washington Post)
-REVIEW: of Bulletproof Monk (Mick LaSalle, SF Chronicle)
-REVIEW: of Bulletproof Monk (Kenneth Turan, LA Times)
-REVIEW: of Bulletproof Monk (David Edelstein, Slate)
-REVIEW: of Bulletproof Monk (Cynthia Fuchs, PopMatters)
-REVIEW: of Bulletproof Monk (Charles Taylor, Salon)
-REVIEW: of Bulletproof Monk (Clint Morris, FilmThreat)
-REVIEW: of Bulletproof Monk (Ed Park, Village Voice)

Posted by Orrin Judd at September 16, 2003 11:05 PM

Ah, this answers the question I had on my blog about this movie...I guess you did like it. I'd still rather look at Uma Thurman :-)

Posted by: Steve Martinovich at September 17, 2003 1:23 AM

First off, I'm shocked that you have more than five names on your "Prison Sex" list.

Secondly, isn't the point to kill THEM, and not YOURSELF ? It's self-defeating to not even try, as I'm sure Chow Yun-Fat, whom I also like, would agree.

Posted by: Michael Herdegen at September 17, 2003 5:22 AM


For instance, if some girly pretty boy, like Leonardo DiCaprio, made you his prison wife, you'd be forced to kill yourself just out of shame. But take Sean Connery--who's finished first every year of the poll--not only is there no shame in yielding to him, you could almost be kind of proud he picked you. (Except, of course, that you can't take pride in it.)

Posted by: oj at September 17, 2003 7:36 AM

OJ: I think I understand, and that frightens me.

Now I know what movie to take the wife to, to celebrate.

Posted by: Chris at September 17, 2003 10:39 AM

It is often claimed, as on this blog this week, that Hollywood was in the hands of commies who made insidious anticonservative movies.

This ignores such conservative classics as "Red Snow," starring the very handsome Guy Madison.

Posted by: Harry Eagar at September 17, 2003 5:11 PM

It's almost impossible to make an unconservative movie and have folks want to watch it--except pornography.

Posted by: OJ at September 17, 2003 5:46 PM