Three prophecies foretell the identity of the next guardian of an ancient Asian scroll --- a sacred spool containing the formula for world peace or domination, depending on how it is used.
For 60 years, the Monk With No Name (Chow Yun-Fat) has protected this valued script. Now the time has come for him to find the successor who will keep it from falling into the wrong hands. In this case, the wrong hands belong to an evil Nazi commander named Strucker (Karel Roden) who, like all credible villains, wants to take over the world.
While monasteries might seem the most likely place to find the chosen one, Monk heads to New York City. Deep in the subway corridors, he meets Kar (Seann William Scott), a smart-mouthed pickpocket who's doing a booming business ripping off unsuspecting rail riders. Interested only in his own welfare, Kar is unwittingly drawn into helping the Tibetan traveler save the life of a young girl.
But training the undisciplined youth proves problematic for the Zen-like master. Along with his prot0xE9g0xE9's initial lack of desire to be enlightened about his greater purpose in life, the aging Strucker has rolled into town. Assisted by his granddaughter Nina (Victoria Smurfit), a lanky blonde who fronts as a Human Rights activist, the former German officer orchestrates one attempt after another to acquire the scroll.
It is not until the mercenaries attack the owner of the Chinese theater where Kar lives and ransack his basement suite, that he agrees to partner up with the martial arts master and a runaway named Bad Girl (James King) in order to protect the artifact.
Once again moviemakers give us a storyline where the most unlikely of characters is called upon to save the day. Forget discipline, training and traditional values. What we need is a criminal to make things right.
Still, the chemistry between the calm and collected monk and the brash thief seems to work. Scenes of carefully choreographed hand-to-hand fighting showcase what Chow does best and give Scott a chance to show off his physique. Unfortunately, the bad guys are so overdone they distract from the story. Using gimmicky gadgets to flush memories from the mind and refusing to succumb to death, these thugs push the limits of believability even for entertainment's sake.
With bullet-riddled bodies, electrocutions and people falling from buildings, this film's violence quotient quickly adds up along with its arsenal of profanities. Considering the lighter moments of diversion the movie offers, it's too bad the script isn't as bulletproof as the monk.