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Bulletproof Monk is something that you'll either love or loathe, there's just no in-between with this film ... however, you may end up loving the film even when every fibre in your body says that you ought to loathe it (I'm one of those parties).  So if you'd rather not be unnecessarily tainted by my personal examination of this movie's potential merits or downsides, then head straight for the quality subsections of this review.

As anyone who is remotely knowledgeable about Hong Kong movies will tell you, Chow Yun Fat's signature films Hard Boiled and The Killer (and the oft-ignored incredible finale of Tiger On Beat) pretty much defines his on-screen persona in the East, however his transition to the Western side of this medium has been met with much derision and misunderstanding (mainly from the financiers who back his projects in Hollywood).  On the other hand, Jet Li looks to be on the way up whereas Jackie Chan unfortunately is stepping into more quicksand than he can climb out of lately, so hopefully Chow Yun Fat will find a more worthy film to sink his teeth into that will put him back on track just like his earlier stint in Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon did.

Bulletproof Monk
I hadn't realised that Bulletproof Monk was based on a solitary three-only issued comic book, although this is one of the better comic-to-movie translations made of recent time (even if it is only related by name and not much else).  As much as there were many things here which should have put me off enjoying it to the brim (such as the occasional bad FX, obvious wire-fu, inexplicable leaps of faith from the characters and a seemingly rushed production), it was ultimately the actors' charm and the passion of the director/producers to tell a visually striking story that won me over at the time.  But maybe my appreciation of it stems from originally not knowing it was a comic book adaptation ... who knows.

The promise of this movie's potential is admittedly let down by a number of factors, one of them being the huge suspension of disbelief from the overused wire-fu methodology herein.  Now normally I am against this practice on any given day, but oddly enough if the guru asks their apprentice to believe that it is possible then I can subsequently let the laws of gravity dissipate just as easily (as was asked before of Neo by Morpheus in The Matrix, although the reasons were more justified in that world) - but it's much harder for me to accept this if no one on-screen tells me that it should be at all conceivable in the first place.  Also, there is a feeling that not a lot of time was dedicated to making this film flow as freely as it should have, with both the editing and character motivations going through major bounds every so often.

But even with its flawed execution, this film delivers artistically with a genuine forethought towards the philosophies of Buddhist teachings and environments - something that the filmmakers take great pains to tell you about in the extras and they fall just short of claiming to have consulted with the Dalai Lama himself about it ;).  It makes for a reasonable 99 minutes of popcorn adventure which harks back to the days of the Saturday Matinee Indiana Jones style of movies, but its poor performance at the box-office ultimately reflected the difficulty of portraying a world that didn't belong within the realms of realistic believability - this is no doubt what put off many people who would otherwise have enjoyed a rollercoaster ride of entertainment that it was obviously aiming to achieve.  Basically, it's a shame that CGI has made it so much easier to portray things that are so much harder to accomplish in real life.

There is a scene in here which, unless you are unable to identify it after having seen it, plays out very much like the initial encounter between Luke Skywalker and Yoda in The Empire Strikes Back ... I'll let you figure out the scene in question.  Also, the opening sequence on the tattered old Tibetan bridge is probably one of the worst examples of CGI visual FX that I've ever seen in my life so it doesn't give a good first impression for the rest of the film to come (not to mention the gravity-defying movements of the characters) - but don't give up on it just yet, it does get better than this I swear!

Bulletproof Monk
Movie
The story begins in 1943 Tibet where two Buddhist Monks, one a master (Roger Yuan, Shanghai Noon) and a student with No Name (Chow Yun-Fat, Anna And The King), are entrusted with protecting an ancient scroll that gives anyone who recites its passages in full the ultimate power in the universe.  An evil Nazi commander named Strucker (Karel Roden, 15 Minutes) is obsessed with obtaining this power to form the world into his own Hitler-esque image and pursues No Name for the magical scroll.  Instantly fast-forward to sixty years later, Kar (Seann William Scott, American Pie) is up to his old tricks as the local pickpocket of an unnamed American city whilst No Name is on the run from the now-older Strucker's henchmen.  Strucker also has a granddaughter Nina (Victoria Smurfit, this isn't a typo either, About A Boy) who aids in his evil plot for world domination.

Kar and No Name cross paths and the Monk decides to make the unwilling Kar his protegé as each of the three prophecies of the chosen one comes to pass with each situation they face.  Along the way, Kar encounters future sidekick Jade aka Bad Girl (Jaime King, Pearl Harbor) who hangs around with an underground gang lead by Mr Funktastic (Marcus Jean Pirae) and his various cohorts.  Kar works and lives at the local Chinese Theatre in which he practices his martial arts from all the ancient Kung Fu movies that are shown there, it is owned by the Japanese local Mr. Kojima (Mako, Pearl Harbor).   Also, No Name has his own army of Buddhist helpers led by Brother Tenzin (Russell Yuen, Shattered Glass).

Together they must fight the forces of evil that wish to fulfil Hitler's vision (version) of a utopian society.

Video
Close to perfection if it wasn't for the still unexplainable niggly sensation I get every time from watching this film (and no, it's not because of the movie itself) but you will not be disappointed with this transfer. This may sound odd, but the image here feels a lot like an old-time chop socky film that has had a brilliant remastering done to it (much like if the Hong Kong Legends group had got a hold of it).  The focus is sharp throughout but also has a warmth to it that is usually lacking in Hollywood films today and is not nearly as dazzling or spectacularly bright as the recent Cradle 2 The Grave DVD.  Whether this "look" is the result of the producer's purposeful modifications or just that of the final transferred product is something I cannot resolve, but ultimately the image that we see suits the film's style.

Bulletproof Monk
This movie mainly takes place at night time or in various interiors, the overall shadow detail tends to suffer a little in parts but is pretty much discernable throughout and the black levels are of course quite deep.  Colours too are hardly going to poke anyone's eyes out, but the saturation levels here are sufficient and correct in tonal quality.  Grain is kept to a relative minimum and general film artifacts are pretty rare, but if either of them show up they will hardly draw undue attention to themselves - so technically, the resultant image is that of a slightly gritty "real-world" environment for the film's storyline.

On the whole a very pleasing transfer, although not so stunning that you will need sunglasses to view it.

Audio
Considering that there is hardly anything more than martial arts combat involved with this soundtrack it is a darn fine mix of all the necessary elements, so you can't get much better than this.

The soundmix isn't so much what I would call an envelopment of sound as an involvement of it, with both the sound FX and especially Eric Serra's musical score helping to bring us closer to the characters on-screen (with a couple of standard hip hop and heavy metal songs thrown in as well).  The surround channels and subwoofer have been given plenty to do but thankfully it is not overdone - this is actually to the film's benefit as it doesn't alienate the viewer by throwing you back heavily each time a well-placed body thump is landed upon.  And when the token gun shots or various vehicles go by there is a brilliant meld of different sounding effects coming through all six speakers.  Dialogue is clear and intelligible.

And finally, the music by Eric Serra is a now common blend of contemporary and ancient instrumentation that has been specifically generated to suit this type of movie - if you'd like to experience some more of this style of composition then check out the score for TV's Kung Fu: The Legend Continues on CD.

This soundtrack is guaranteed to please but don't expect your lounge room to implode every five minutes.

Extras
The menu system is simple enough, too simple in fact since some of the selections on offer tend to hide other extensive options that you wouldn't know were there until you clicked upon it.  Also, there is an odd but entertaining inclusion to the main screen where two hangman-like stick figures duke it out around the text icons - this reminded me of a similar Flash animation of ten little men fighting the one poor sap that I saw on the Internet way back when - unfortunately I have long forgotten the weblink for them, sorry.

Bulletproof Monk
Anyway, the amount of extras found here are definitely more than in your usual unmarked Special Edition DVD, everything below is kept under the Special Features banner.

There is the Audio Commentary by first time film-feature director Paul Hunter (who pretty much started out like Brett Ratner, both of whom have directed commercials and music videos) as well as the producers Charles Rovan and Douglas Segal.  It is obvious that the director's comments have been edited into the more lively verbal spar-session between the two producers, but all three have interesting anecdotes to share with their audience even if maybe they do repeat themselves a little bit.  Overall, it's entertaining more from a filmmaker's point of view.

Selecting The Tao Of Monk option will actually bring you into a further screen so you can choose between five other separate featurettes. The first featurette is called Fists Of Fury (7 mins) and goes into the months of training that the actors went through to do as much of their own stunt work as possible on the fight choreography (with and without wires) - believe me when I say that this is harder than it looks. Next up is Enter The Monk (20 mins) which talks to the comic book creators and shows some great behind-the-scenes footage of the movie as well.  This covers the whole gamut of major considerations to be made when making such a film including the casting of actors to play the various parts, choreographing the fights, creating the special effects and coming up with the artistic creations both visual and aural. - Smoke And Mirrors (8 mins) looks at the various methods of creating the visual FX with both the real and fake trickery to pull it all off. Next up is Zen Palette (10 mins) which goes into the art design with the distinct colour schemes and other aesthetic choices that the director wanted so we can identify each particular locale.  It also lets us know how much dedication there was to exhibit the Tibetan Bhuddist practices as realistically as possible, something that most movie-watchers would not really appreciate in the end anyway. The next featurette is The Art Of Score (11 mins) and is probably the most effective demonstration of the filmmaking process as it discusses the development of a musical backing for the film as well as the choice to go with Eric Serra who is probably best known for his work on Luc Besson's Leon: The Professional.  This is without a doubt an insightful look into the importance of a movie's score which provides an almost subconscious support towards everything you see on-screen - this is probably the best example I have ever seen for the creation of music for a movie, even better than the one found on the Gladiator DVD.

Bulletproof Monk
The next extra is entitled The Monk Unrobed (7 mins) and it offers a more detailed explanation of the comic book style and how it was to be translated onto film - it makes no apologies that the title itself is probably the only thing that had any similarities towards the final movie script but they at least wanted to retain the film-noir style that the comic book held as well.

The Deleted Scenes (17 mins) are two-fold in that they show us some extensions to the existing filmed sequences from the first half of the movie and then we are treated to the alternate version of events that would have occurred in the final act had Kar and Jade recruited the underground gang to help in rescuing No Name from Strucker's evil lair - it also contains the much longer alternate ending which was held entirely within the dungeon instead of the rooftop as seen in the final version of the film.

The Theatrical Trailer is here for those people who'd like to see how this movie managed to drum up interest in the ranks of the fan clubs for Chow Yun Fat or fantasy-based martial arts in general.  Finally, there is a sparse Photo Gallery with nineteen behind-the-scenes images.

Summary
If you have no problem with human beings pulling off moves that can only be accomplished by the supernaturally gifted, then this is the movie for you.  But even if you are usually against this particular style of Hong Kong action I still think it is worth investigating - I can tell that the effort was there to produce an entertaining if not insightful look into the teachings of Buddhism under the guise of a popcorn action flick.  For those who already understand the concepts involved in the teachings of Buddha will know that it is a very open-minded way of life that accepts all forms of thought and knowledge, and they don't mind having a laugh along the way as well - anyone who has read some of the Dalai Lama's books will know that his thirst for scientific knowledge and good humour are two of his more common personal traits.

Some people I know were never able to enjoy The Matrix when it came out with the impossibly lofty heights achieved by the main characters and I know that they will not even be bothered to want to check out Bulletproof Monk for the same reasons.  However, if you are the type of person who likes to see every movie for themselves before writing them off on someone else's say-so, then you might well be rewarded with something a little bit different - if not actually gain more from the extras than the film itself.

On a final note, the R4 DVD of this movie has the same content on board but is encoded somewhat differently with no timer information for the supplemental material and no subtitles for the movie proper.


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