Posts Tagged ‘Seann William Scott’

From the Hootoo archive. Originally published May 1st 2003:

One of the ways in which Hollywood has been very forward-thinking in its approach to big business has been in its attitude to foreign (which, in Hollywood terms, means ‘non-English speaking’) actors and directors. For almost as long as there has been a film industry in America, the major studios have been keeping an eye out for talent that speaks a different tongue, with an eye to signing it up. Sometimes the results have been, if not creatively great, then massively lucrative – Bela Lugosi’s performances as Dracula, for example, or most of Paul Verhoeven’s American movies. Sometimes work of genuine quality has been produced – Akira Kurosawa’s last few, George Lucas sponsored movies probably qualify under this heading. But a lot of the time the result is an actor or director looking horribly uncomfortable and not really justifying the transfer fee.

Which brings us moderately neatly to Paul Hunter’s Bulletproof Monk. You have to admire a film with the cojones to go out into the world under a title like that, still more one which accompanies it with the tagline ‘A monk. A punk. A chick. In a kick-ass flick.’ I thought it sounded like the sort of parody The Fast Show used to specialise in, and after seeing it wasn’t quite sure if I’d not been right all along.

Tibet, 1943: Chow ‘Most people can’t spell my name right’ Yun-Fat plays a novice Buddhist monk just about to complete his training and become the guardian of the Magic Scroll of Ultimate Power. Chow looks a bit long in the tooth to still be a novice, but we will forgive him this because, hey, he’s Chow Yun-Fat. Chow’s receipt of this great responsibility coincides with some Nazi storm troopers attacking the monastery, led by the nasty Strucker (Karel Roden), who is intent on nabbing the Scroll for himself. Pausing only to go all Crouching Tiger on their collective asses, Chow scarpers. Sixty years later, Chow (who, we’re told, has been kept young by the Scroll) is in the US, still hunted by Strucker and his followers, and searching himself for the one who prophecy has said will succeed him as the Scroll’s protector. And who should he run into but small time crook Kar, played by Seann William ‘I can’t spell my own name right’ Scott, who has more important things on his mind – such as working down the local kung fu movie theatre and romancing the mysteriously well-deodorised street-fightin’ girly Jade (Jaime King). Will Kar get the girl? Will Strucker get the scroll? And will Chow ever get offered a sensible English-language script?

This is a movie with a rather cartoony style, which is mainly attributable to its origins as an obscure comic book. Thankfully, it doesn’t attempt to duck away from this, and the result is a film with considerable energy and charm, if not much plausibility. It’s an odd fusion of old-school kung fu with Indiana Jones-style action fantasy – pepped up by some not-quite-cutting-edge special effects.

In the last few years we’ve come to see a very odd new sub genre appear when it comes to martial arts films – namely, the kung fu movie starring people who don’t actually know kung fu. This isn’t necessarily a criticism, as the most famous film of this type is the fabulous Matrix. But it does mean the film is much more likely to be judged on the quality of its acting, direction, and special effects than on the action sequences themselves. Certainly, Bulletproof Monk falls down quite badly when it comes to the actual fights; they have nothing new to offer in terms of how they’re choreographed or directed.

But the film has several aces up its sleeve in the script and acting departments. Clearly aware that this is, to be generous, an incredibly silly story, scriptwriters Ethan Reiff and Cyrus Voris have abandoned all pretence of seriousness and instead gone for a high-camp romp which treads the line between light-hearted fun and blatant self-parody with impressive skill. The staples of traditional martial arts come in for some good-natured ribbing, as do the acrobatic excesses of Crouching Tiger Hidden Dragon. But this doesn’t just function as a spoof, in many places it’s genuinely funny on its own terms. The script is well-endowed with ridiculous, larger-than-life characters, and to their credit performers such as Mako, Marcus Pirae, and Roger Yuan all turn in appropriately fruity performances. Special mention must be made of Victoria Smurfit’s performance as the evil Nina, she-wolf of the SS: with long golden hair, a cut-glass accent, some frankly dodgy screen-acting technique and wires attached to every extremity (for those tricky mid-air flips and kicks) she appears to be auditioning for the role of Lady Penelope in the forthcoming Thunderbirds flick.

I must confess to being unfamiliar with the filmographies of both Seann William Scott and Jaime King, but they do pretty well here – Scott is likeably goofy, King looks nice, and they have good chemistry with both each other and the films’ unquestioned star and saving grace – ladies and gentlemen, Mr Chow Yun-Fat.

Fans of world cinema, particularly world cinema featuring people being repeatedly shot in the head, will already no doubt be aware of what a massively charismatic performer Chow is. In an ideal world he really shouldn’t be labouring away in this sort of film – one hopes he hasn’t become trapped in the martial arts ghetto – but to his enormous credit he gives total commitment to a part he could probably play in his sleep. It would be very easy for this kind of (literally) holier than thou, fortune cookie wisdom spouting character to rapidly become a pain in the arse, but Chow gives his eponymous character depth and warmth and humour. None of the battles he fights in the film are as protracted or as painful to watch as the one he engages in with the English language throughout, but his charm and intensity are the same no matter if he’s talking or not. (That said, throughout the film he looks most comfortable when speaking Chinese or posing with a gun in both hands.)

I didn’t have high expectations for this film, and was all set to put the boot into Hollywood for once again hiring a great talent and then squandering it in a terrible, unsuitable film. Well, Bulletproof Monk isn’t a terrible film. It’s not deep, or serious, or have an urgent message about the world, but as a piece of light-hearted escapism, with at least as many laughs as there are thrills, it’s a reasonably good bet for a fun night out. If Sir Ian McKellen can play a magnetic mutant, then I suppose Chow can get away with playing a magic monk – but just as McKellen will doubtless return to the legitimate theatre, so I hope Chow Yun-Fat will also get the opportunity to demonstrate the full range of his talent before too long.

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From the Hootoo archive. Originally published April 8th 2004: 

Well now, ladies and gentlemen, boys and girls, pitching up currently in the UK (many months, it must be said, after its US release under the slightly snappier title The Rundown) is Peter Berg’s Welcome To The Jungle, the latest development in the ongoing cold war to select the top-gun beefcake who will replace Arnie now he’s gone into politics (ha ha ha).

This action romp (rather like an extended episode of The A-Team that’s been crossbred with the 80s Douglas-Turner vehicle Romancing The Stone) is the tale of LA debt collector Beck, who’s played by wrestling ubermensch The Rock, who’s played by Dwayne Johnson. Beck is basically a chilled-out guy who has found himself in debt to a slimy mobster, and all he wants to do is buy back his freedom and open a restaurant (you might expect this rather quirky detail to merely be the set-up for some rotten jokes about exactly what the Rock is cooking, but thankfully the movie resists this temptation).

Anyway, after some jolly pre-credits head-cracking Beck finds himself packed off up the Amazon to retrieve his boss’s wayward treasure-hunting son Travis (a typical goofy-sidekick turn from Seann William Scott). Unfortunately Travis is in a part of the rainforest that’s basically being run as a private kingdom by evil mining tycoon Hatcher (Christopher Walken, phoning it in), much to the chagrin of politically-engaged barmaid Mariana (Rosario Dawson). With Beck needing Mariana’s help to get the hell out of there, and Mariana needing Travis’ help to find a priceless gold statuette which will finance her revolution, and Hatcher basically just wanting to shoot everyone, it’s clear there’s going to be a right old carry-on up the jungle…

Welcome To The Jungle is clearly aimed at an audience of about thirteen years of age, and will probably make a tidy profit if the showing I rolled up for is anything to go by. As such, it doesn’t sully itself overmuch with things like plot or character development or trying to challenge the audience (and there’s none of that soppy kissy stuff either) – but it is rather strong on daft jokes, slapstick, general mayhem, and weirdness. This is definitely one of those movies best partaken of with the higher critical faculties fully disconnected – at one point I caught myself thinking ‘Why are those African baboons living in the Brazilian rainforest?’, but managed to put it from my mind – which makes giving it a proper review a bit tricky.

But I have to say I sort of enjoyed it. The story and action sequences are absolutely nothing special, but Dwayne remains an engaging and charismatic lead, and I suspect I’d back him in a fight against Vin Diesel any day. (In any case, it looks like Vin wants to be the new Stallone.) Dwayne’s case for acclamation as the new Arnie gets a bit of a boost here anyway, as the Governator himself makes a tiny cameo right at the start, presumably to indicate his approbation of the new kid. But quite apart from the star, this is a film with an offbeat charm of its own – there’s a quite extraordinarily bizarre performance from Ewen Bremner as an Oirish bush-pilot with a gammy leg and an unintelligible accent, who sadly isn’t in the middle section of the film at all. Walken is let loose at a couple of points – there’s a very strange moment when he attempts to explain to his goons who the Tooth Fairy is, despite the fact they don’t speak any English. And Berg’s direction, while a bit over the top in parts, isn’t afraid to be more imaginative and quirky than a film like this strictly needs or deserves.

This is by no means essential viewing: Welcome To The Jungle is fundamentally only about providing an agreeable vehicle for its hulking star. But it does this fairly well, and it’s clear Dwayne is trying to make a proper go of it as an actual movie actor – wrestling nonsense is kept to a bare minimum, none of his trademarks feature, and he even stays pretty much fully dressed for most of the film. And the movie has just enough wit, energy, and quirkiness to keep it from being offensively shallow and stupid. Welcome To The Jungle is nothing particularly special, but if you like knockabout action it’ll keep you happy until the proper summer movies come out.

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