Wednesday, April 16, 2003

Chow on target, again, in 'Monk'

Movie review

By Margaret A. McGurk
The Cincinnati Enquirer

First up, let's just agree that Chow Yun-Fat is perfectly fantastic, no matter what.

The "what" of the moment happens to be the odd mood swings of Bulletproof Monk, an action-packed blend of martial arts, mysticism and comedy that co-stars - of all people - Seann William Scott.

Seann William Scott (left) and Chow Yun-Fat cross paths for martial arts, mysticism and a few laughs in Bulletproof Monk.

(PG-13; violence, language, some sexual content) Chow Yun-Fat, Seann William Scott, James King. Directed by Paul Hunter. 104 minutes. Danbarry Middletown, National Amusements, Oakley Drive-In.
Scott is best known to movie audiences for playing IQ-impaired sidekicks in such dumb-guy classics as American Pie, American Pie 2, Road Trip and Dude, Where's My Car. Casting him as a rootless pickpocket destined to save mankind by protecting a priceless Buddhist relic sounds, to put it mildly, counter-intuitive.

Yet, Scott delivers, holding his ground alongside the overwhelming charisma of Chow, who plays an ageless and nameless Tibetan monk chosen to guard a scroll that is said to confer unlimited power on anyone who recites it all out loud.

The monk and the pickpocket, who calls himself Kar, cross paths while the monk is on the run from his nemesis, Strucker (Karel Roden). An ex-Nazi who has been hunting for the scroll for 60 years, Strucker and his evil granddaughter Nina (Victoria Smurfit) spend millions on a phony human-rights museum, mow down innocent bystanders, and operate a bizarre torture chamber in their quest.

As villains, Strucker and Nina are the most cartoonish and least interesting characters in the story, written by Ethan Reiff and Cyrus Voris based on a comic book series from Flypaper Press. They are too outlandish to be scary and too cliche-driven to be exciting.

More successful as a wild card is Jade (Jaime King), a cute little girl with preternatural combat skills who is intrigued enough by Kar to save his life from a subway-dwelling petty-crime boss.

Director Paul Hunter (a music-video veteran making his big-screen debut), keeps up a sprightly pace, but never quite harmonizes the movie's competing tones of silliness and tragedy.

Happily, Chow is on the job. Confident - particularly with his newly improved command of English - and suave as Cary Grant, he holds the enterprise together by sheer force of personality, not to mention his way with a wisecrack. As longtime fans know, he is more an actor than an action-figure - and he proves it again with his charming, funny, effortless work in this unusual gumbo of a movie.


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