For the past sixty years, an immortal Tibetan kung fu master, aka the "Monk With No Name" (Chow Yun-Fat) has zigzagged the globe to protect an ancient scroll -- one that holds the key to unlimited power over the universe. Having at last obtained the magic parchment, the Monk now needs to find a new scroll-keeper to protect it from capture by arch-enemy, Strucker (Karel Roden). Filling this unlikely spot is Kar (Seann William Scott), a cocky, streetwise opportunist who inadvertently saves our Monk from capture. Along with a sexy Russian mob princess known as Bad Girl (Jaime King), the trio set off to protect the scroll, defeat Strucker and save the world.
Really now, what can one say about a plot like that? Based on the very underground comic book of the same name, the premise of 'Bulletproof Monk' seems like something a couple of kids dreamed up while getting stoned in their bedrooms, walls covered in black-lite posters and the smell of marijuana hanging in the air. It's a mishmash of pure comic book silliness, Eastern "philosophy" filtered through Western cinematic sensibilities, and 'Matrix'-lite fight scenes. But what rescues 'Bulletproof Monk' from being utterly ingratiating is its sense of humor. Outside of pure spoof movies like 'Kung Fu Hustle,' I don't think I've seen a "martial arts film" that took itself less seriously since the 1985 John Carpenter cult classic 'Big Trouble in Little China.'
'Bulletproof Monk' gets by largely on the wattage of its cast. Chow Yun-Fat has always been a personal favorite of mine, even before he solidified his Stateside success with 'Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon,' so it is great fun to see him play a lighter role here, parodying not only every single chop-socky cliche of the past twenty years but his own stoic, uber-serious persona. Scott also is far less irritating than his "Stifler" persona from the 'American Pie' films, or the absolutely dreadful 'The Dukes of Hazzard' -- perhaps acting off of Yun-Fat forced him to bring his game up a notch? King is also a find, with a luminous presence and great flair for comedy -- too bad she continues to get stuck in bad movies like 'White Chicks' and 'Cheaper by the Dozen 2.'
If the film suffers, it is ultimately under the weight of too much postmodern wackiness and an abundance of narrative detours. 'Bulletproof Monk' is also a fantasy film more than it is an action spectacular, which may disappoint comic book fans looking for a bit more hard-edged adaptation. But I liked so many individual scenes in 'Bulletproof Monk' that its goofy spirit ultimately won me over. How can you argue with the Monk and Kar battling a group of underground humanoids led by a rooster-haired thug named "Funktastic," who have turned a subway car into their own disco? Or with Yun-Fat's ability to levitate as he battles his enemies, dodging bullets with omniscient ease, all while eating a bowl of Cocoa Puffs? Let's face it, you can't -- or you wouldn't be reading this review. So just turn your brain off, dive in and do you best kung-fu air kick. 'Bulletproof Monk' is that kind of movie.
'Bulletproof Monk' gets the 1080p/MPEG-2 treatment from MGM on a BD-25 single-layer disc. Unfortunately this transfer doesn't offer much over the standard-def release, and is certainly not a shining example of what the Blu-ray format can deliver.
The first strike against the presentation is the spotty source print. Film grain is generally fine, but it flares up considerably during darker scenes to the point where can be distracting. Worse, there is a fair amount of dirt on the print, which is unacceptable in a high-def release where every little last flaw is visible -- it's also a surprise for a such a recent film. Colors are better, with fairly punchy hues that remain stable. Fleshtones also appear accurate. Detail is decent enough, with striking depth in some scenes -- usually brightly lit ones -- but shadow delineation can suffer greatly in darker moments. The transfer also alternates between sharp and soft, with little rhyme or reason. At least there are no compression artifacts, such as macroblocking or excessive edginess. Still, hardly one of Blu-ray's better moments.
This DTS HD Master Lossless Audio 5.1 surround track is definitely superior to the video transfer. The film focuses all its sonic energy on the fight sequences, but when they kick in, they realy shine.
Setting aside the scenes where people actually talk to one another, surround use is aggressive and effective. Rear presence is strong, with impressive force to discrete effects, which are directed with great accuracy to specific points in the soundfield. Unfortunately, these scenes can be too loud at times, almost swallowing dialogue whole. Volume adjustment was frequent. More subdued moments are still clean and clear, with even Seann William Scott's rapid-fire delivery intelligible -- quite an accomplishment. Dynamics also excel, with very strong base and robust upper range. A bit less of the bombastic would have balanced out the mix a bit, but still this one delivers the goods.
Per usual with MGM's catalog titles, there is nothing here at all. Just the usual trailer gallery for other MGM/Fox titles, but no preview for 'Bulletproof Monk.'
I have to admit I found 'Bulletproof Monk' highly entertaining. It's East meets West silliness and a desperate need to please makes it the most charming martial arts comedy since 'Big Trouble in Little China.' MGM doesn't seem to have put much effort in this Blu-ray release, however. The transfer is marred by a dirty print, and the nice soundtrack can't offset the complete lack of extras. For $39.95 list, Blu-ray supporters deserve more than this.