Comic Book Movies 101: Bulletproof Monk

With only a 3 issue mini-series published, I took an immense liking to the Bulletproof Monk comic book. Artists Michael Avon Oeming and Jason Baumgartner created stunning neon pop art style illustrations combining resplendent colours and vivid imagery. This fleshed out the themes of the comic, incorporating Oriental mysticism, violent gangster rings and romantic notions of love. Thus forming an intriguing rites of passage story where I immediately took a liking to the protagonist Kar because not only could he hold his own at martial arts he had a clever sense of humour to match.

So when I heard the movie was coming out I had high hopes, for Chow Yun Fat is one of my favourite actors and I was eagerly anticipating a colourful filmic style resembling that of the comics. However, a blonde scruffy haired man with unusual facial expressions and a knack for getting himself smacked straight round the face made me shout out an untimely word “Stifmeister!!!” Yes I was a little sceptical about Seann William Scott because even though I enjoyed the American Pie movies, he established a character so recognisable that it would be easy for him to be typecast. To my surprise he does in fact hold his own and the qualities of the Kar comic book character were fleshed out in the movie.

His first meeting with Chow Yun Fat as the Tibetan monk sworn to protect a scroll containing knowledge by which the reader becomes very powerful is brilliantly executed. Their unity in saving the girl from an oncoming train allowed an instant bond between them and the potential for a mentor student partnership but Kar’s disloyalty in stealing the scroll offers a yin and yang battle of opposites. This story technique is extremely symbolic and pushes the story and their characters forward because even though they have a bond of unity they need to be complete opposites in order for them to learn and grow from one another whilst still maintaining a comedic undertone.

One of my favourite scenes is shortly after Kar meets the monk and he is forced into an underground fight by a minor crime lord Mister Funktastic – and it’s strange to say the high tempo non diegetic music brings underground street fighting to a more higher glorified funktastic *cough* (excuse the pun) level. The rhythmic camera movements are sweeping and natural as if the choreographed fighting was a perfectly executed dance. The range of camera angles, from low to high and back again, coupled with the dominant blues, greys and browns connotes a cold gritty natural scene where the balance of power between Kar and the villain is forever shifting. There are quite a few same level shots of Kar on the floor, exuding a more personal interaction with the character thus building tension and support for the protagonist. The range of close ups and medium shots used, juxtaposed with the change in camera angles is very comic book like as we get a greater sense of time and character involvement.

Chow Yun Fat is the perfect mentor and at times a little undervalued in martial arts films where certain stars like Jet Li and Jackie Chan take precedence. He displays a nice balance of authority with humour, never failing in his duty and commitment to the mission of protecting the scroll. The way he explains the tale of the three prophecies in order to determine the protector of the scroll is interesting and cleverly played out, utilising the core theme of the comic Oriental Mysticism. The fight between Kar and Mister Funktastic completes the prophecy of battling enemies beneath circling cranes.

Another favourite scene is the completion of the second prophecy; fighting for love at the palace of jade. The clash between Kar and Jaime King’s character Jade again utilises sweeping camera movements that form naturally together and the dominant red and oranges connotes an intense fiery scene igniting anger with passion. Coupled with the mise en scene of mystical artefacts, oriental wall hangings and the overall furniture décor it enhances the look and feel of an eastern palace with a modern twist.  This coupled with the Monk explaining how it is not healthy for Jade to have a double identity and how she needs “once complete life” is very symbolic as it reflects her completeness with Kar for they are both destined to protect the scroll. Jade wearing exuberant green oriental attire connotes earthliness and being loyal to her roots which juxtaposed with the dominant red again shows the character torn and the purpose of this scene is so they can fight for love in order to be complete.          

The film ends on a high but is left open ended as in the comic book which allows for possible future storylines, where I would love to see more development for Kar and Jade. Overall, Seann William Scott was very commendable as Kar and surprisingly kept a reasonably straight face whilst at the same time providing witty humour. This coupled with the support of the ever amazing Chow Yun Fat provided a strong and likeable partnership where the sense of humour relayed that of the comics. However, our favourite loveable Stifmeister is returning next year for American Reunion along with Jason Biggs and Alyson Hannigan and if he keeps up his shenanigans then it should be good. So now I am going to leave with one of his movie dilemmas; “Oh God, I kissed Jim”. 

Rachel Moore

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