Bulletproof Monk (Canada/ USA, 2003)
Directed by Paul Hunter
Starring Chow Yun-fat, Seann William Scott, Jaime King, Karel Roden
In my review of Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon, I spoke about the ability to enjoy the physical spectacle of a film even if the story isn't able to hold your attention. I said that much of the appeal of martial arts films lay in their physicality and skilful choreography, with many people going to see the likes of Enter the Dragon and The Raid because of how fantastically Bruce Lee or his modern-day equivalents could move.
Indiana Jones. More than 20 years after Raiders of the Lost Ark was released, filmmakers throughout Hollywood were still being influenced by it, borrowing from it, and trying to recapture its magic in their own action sequences. Some films from this period, like Dungeons and Dragons, borrowed from Steven Spielberg in a very candid way, with the maze sequences blatantly ripping off whole scenes from the original trilogy. But in a more general way, the films set the template for light-hearted pulpy adventure stories, just as the James Bond series had created the default style for escapist spy films.
The Boys from Brazil about how Nazis have become the go-to bad guys for Hollywood films, and this opening sequence is an excellent demonstration of how this still holds true. As with Raiders of the Lost Ark, the nationality of the soldiers is irrelevant: it's funny to see narrow-minded racist bigots get their arses handed to them whatever their creed or colour. This section is what Big Trouble in Little China always should have been like, and the open air setting also brings out the best in debut director Paul Hunter.
Atlantis: The Lost Empire, I criticised the fact that the plot of Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade could be "easily transposed" onto its own, such was the laziness of its writing. Bulletproof Monk isn't in the same league in terms of narrative similarities: its plot does revolve around an ancient McGuffin and fighting Nazis, but the beats of its narrative are more entrenched in the buddy movie genre. Additionally, the film differs from Disney's disaster in the attitude it has towards its audience. While Disney displayed active contempt for the audience's intelligence, the film is as least partially aware of how silly it all is and invites those watching to relax and share in the silliness.
Highlander, and again this film comes out pretty well. Both Russell Mulcahy and Paul Hunter come from a background in music videos, and both display this lineage in a way which affects the cinematic quality of their respective films. But while Highlander devotes most of its first hour to falling short in its exploration of potential-laden ideas, this is very clear how pulpy and trashy it is from the outset. The action sequences in the opening segment are nicely paced, and while there are no instantly memorable moves to speak off, we do at least get to see things play out without too many distractions.
Cradle 2 the Grave from hereon in, and had you missed the first 20 minutes and caught this on late-night TV, you could be forgiven for not remembering anything about it. None of it is offensively bad or overtly irritating, and moments in the script is vaguely witty as it takes the mickey out of pop-Tao philosophy. But beyond its desire to occasionally poke fun at generic convention, it's nothing to write home about.
Batman Returns and the terrific Ed Wood, as well as working with acclaimed documentarian Errol Morris (The Thin Blue Line) and oddball Todd Solondz (Fear, Anxiety and Depression). This work, however, is much closer to his work on Child's Play 2: the colours are bland and uninspiring, the compositions are generic and the workmanlike camerawork is ultimately compromised by Hunter's penchant for rapid editing.
Logan's Run before it, it becomes most enjoyable at the very point where we cannot take it seriously, and while it's not spirited or boisterous enough to be considered a romp, it is a pleasant hour and forty minutes' excursion.
The Boys from Brazil - and like the former, the final fight from Bulletproof Monk fails to deliver on anything like a satisfying level. The setting may be more ornately pantomime than Mulcahy managed to deliver, and it is more visually impressive than two elderly hams and their stunt doubles rolling around on the floor. But having built up Strucker to such an extent, having him fall off a building and be electrocuted is both cartoonish (in a Disney way) and disappointingly brief.
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NEXT REVIEW: Still Alice (2015)