Another week, another ethnic buddy yarn. In Paul Hunter’s Bulletproof Monk, Seann William Scott appears as a spiritually-challenged pickpocket who incurs the wrath of a British underground gang spearheaded by the shirtless Funktastic (Patrick Hagarty). Enter the nameless Tibetan monk (Chow Yun-Fat), a keeper-of-sacred-scrolls trying to shake loose a wheelchair-bound Nazi. Eastern Philosophy meets Western Disaffection when Kar and Monk have to save a little black girl from being killed by an oncoming train. In seconds, the filmmakers have dutifully stunted their characters and placed them on opposite spiritual spectrums: Kar doesn’t see the reward in saving a life and Monk is all about following the noble path to enlightenment. Monk could double for a cheap Park Avenue psychologist (“You should be asking yourself who you are,” he says to his young protégé) and it’s only a matter of time before little orphan Kar opts for all “that enlightenment stuff” and embraces his inner crouching tiger. Preposterous and reductive to umpteenth degrees, this witless action comedy reimagines The Karate Kid with more gadgets and gizmos. Poor Yun-Fat must endure the evil Nazi’s granddaughter’s offensive come-ons (she eyes his penis and talks about surveying “every inch” of his body—for security purposes, of course). If Kar is the most undisciplined youth Monk ever laid his eyes on, Bulletproof Monk is infinitely more juvenile. Indeed, a film like this has it bad when a crash test dummy steals the show.
Ed Gonzalez is the co-founder of Slant Magazine. His writing has also appeared in The Village Voice and The Los Angeles Times. He’s a member of the New York Film Critics Circle, the Critics Choice Association, and the Latino Entertainment Journalists Association.