Here is how cool Hong Kong action superstar Chow Yun-Fat (“Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon”) is: while clearly capable of outshining just about anyone and anything in movies today, instead he manages to somehow shine his coolness over everything around him, making action heroes out of Seann William Scott (of “Dude Where’s My Car” and “American Pie”) and model-turned actress Jamie King (“Pearl Harbor”). The result is a popcorn pleasure, an action movie with a little wit, a lot of spirit, and some kick-butt kick-boxing.
Chow plays the Monk With No Name (like the Clint Eastwood character, The Man With No Name), who back in World War II was assigned the task of guarding a sacred scroll. A Nazi officer named Strucker tries to get it, but the Monk escapes. Sixty years later, the Nazi and his grand-daughter are still after the scroll. Strucker is old and in a wheelchair, but the Monk, because of his special assignment, has not aged. It is time for him to find the next guardian of the scroll, however, and it just seems that it might be a petty thief and chop-socky film projectionist named Kar (Scott).
Scott has shown an appealing comic presence in previous movies, but I would never have expected him to be able to carry a leading role as well as he does here. He is buff and he is game. He is confident enough not to take himself seriously, and he does very well. King, playing a “Bad Girl” (that’s her nickname) with a secret, handles herself well. She and Kar fight as a way of getting to know one another (as Jennifer Garner and Ben Affleck did in “Daredevil”), so their thrusts and parries help to tell the story.
The fight scenes are staged wonderfully, and the production design is outstanding, especially the underground lair of a ragtag bunch of scoundrels who live in subway tunnels. The dialogue is not completely embarassing, which makes it a big step up from most action films. And Chow, as ever, has all the presence it takes to make the screen come alive.
Parents should know that the movie is very violent, though not as graphic as many PG-13s. Characters are killed, including one who is impaled. There is brief strong language. There are some sexual references, though it is very clear that the “Bad Girl” is, as far as sex goes, a “good girl.”
Families who see this movie should talk about why the monks did not just destroy the scroll. What is there in the world today that is as susceptible as the fictional scroll to being used for devastating purposes?
Families who enjoy this movie will also enjoy the magnificent work of art, “Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon.” And they will also enjoy some other kick-boxing action films by stars like Jet Li and Jackie Chan.