Michael Yanover talks about 'Bulletproof Monk'

Mon, April 14th, 2003 at 12:00am PDT

TV/Film
Rob Worley, Columnist

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This

week the comic book adaptation "Bulletproof Monk" opens in

theaters everywhere. "BPM" may be the year's least anticipated comic

movie but it may also be this year's "Men In Black": an obscure

property that explodes to a whole new level on the big screen.

Comics2Film/CBR

News spoke with Michael Yanover, the comic's publisher and co-creator at

Flypaper Press, about his experiences developing the property and shepherding it

into cinemas.

Yanover founded Flypaper Press with partner Mark Paniccia. The pair had worked together at

Malibu Comics (the point of origin for "Men in Black") and set out to

create a different style of superhero comic books.

"We didn't want to do Marvel because nobody's done Marvel better than Marvel.

We wanted to do something new," Yanover told us. The Flypaper theme would

emphasize heroes whose power didn't come from fantastic, sci-fi origins. "They have a power within themselves that needs to be

discovered. Part of the theory is that that's in all of us, that we're all capable of

fantastic things if we allow ourselves to tap into that.That's kind of the Flypaper mantra."

Yanover

and Paniccia would then develop concepts and hire writers and artists to execute

those ideas. Once such concept had the pair hoping to blend elements of their

favorite forms of entertainment in a way that hadn't been done before.

"[We] said let's put together

this comic combining the coolness of kung fu action, John Woo style movie-making

with a 'Star Wars' mythology, set in an urban setting," Yanover

said. "Let's combine these

two worlds and mate it with a comic book sensibility. We figured nobody had

really done that before."

Although Hong Kong movies were slowly gaining

an audience in the U.S. in the mid-nineties, Yanover and Paniccia were hoping to

develop a concept that was compelling on a different level.

"We said, lets combine them and see if we can

tell a martial arts story but lay down a cool character story, a cool mythology

underneath it. Tell the traditional martial arts stories, but infuse them with a sense of

character."

They dubbed the project "Bulletproof Monk." Then it was time to

hire a creative team. They had previously done a comic called "Invisible

9" with an up-and-coming artist who they enjoyed working with.

"We thought he could give it a really cool look. He had

never done any martial arts stuff before, to my knowledge. This was the first

thing that he'd done and we didn't really know that he was going to be so

amazing at that genre," Yanover said, "He was kind of an

up-and-comer, but we just loved his style. We fell in love with him. It wasn't

just his style. He's a great guy to work with."

That artist was none

other than Michael Avon Oeming, who has become a superstar in comic book circles

ever since, providing art for books like "Powers," and, more recently,

publishing his own creations like "Hammer of the Gods," "Bastard Samurai"

and "Parliament of Justice."

Writers Brett Lewis and R.A. Jones came

on board and the book was underway, but another critical element would come

shortly thereafter.

"Gotham Chopra had come to us with a project of his own that he wanted to

do as a comic book," Yanover said, but instead of doing that, the

publishers saw an opportunity and quickly brought him into

the project to lend his ideas about inner peace and Buddhist principles. "We thought, this is a character that we

wanted to have that 'Zen factor,'

so he came on as a story editor and kind of a spiritual consultant or guru."

Having watched "Men in Black" go from their publishing house to box

office success, Yanover said there were definite thoughts about branching out

with this new comic.

"I

very early on thought, 'this is kind of a John Woo style of film,'" Yanover

told C2F, "but

I also thought this would be something new. We could take this to John Woo as an

urban, American style of film with the Hong Kong action, which was combining the

two worlds that John Woo already lives in. It seemed like a natural match"

With only one issue published, Yanover met with Woo and his Lion Rock producing

partner Terence Chang to discuss the project. They became immediately intrigued

and continued to watch the book develop over its three issue run.

With Woo and Chang involved, Yanover's work as an executive producer truly

began. "My role [was in] getting it packaged, bringing the elements together

and selling it. I was the engine driving the train of this project, in terms of

wanting to see it adapted into a movie and working with the people to get it

adapted."

Yanover developed the idea further with Lion Rock, who had a

long-standing relationship with Chow Yun-Fat. The actor became attached to the

project very early on.

The star helped attract other talent too.

Screenwriters Ethan Reiff

and Cy Voris were the next pieces to the puzzle. They were gaining a reputation

for adapting comic books. "They were chomping at the bit to work with Chow

Yun-Fat."

With as an actor like Chow in the lead, the writers were faced with a special

challenge in adapting the book. "It was clear that this Bulletproof Monk character in

the movie was going to have to play a more prominent role than being the

background mythology," Yanover said.

"So they came up with a mechanism to put Kar and the Bulletproof Monk

on the screen together at the same time, which is actually a very elegant thing

that they did and works well in the film."

Another addition to the project came with producer Chuck Roven and his Mosaic

Media, who had been behind movies like "Scooby Doo" and "Three

Kings."

"When Chuck Roven and the Mosaic team came aboard that's when the

project kicked into high-gear," Yanover said. "Chuck really drove this

film home and did an amazing job in actually makingthis movie."

Now, with a ready-made film package, the team pitched the adaptation to MGM.

The studio bought into it, in spite of the fact that they didn't yet see Chow

Yun-Fat as a marquee name.

"In between the time of them starting to write the script and our movie going,

'Crouching Tiger' came out and it, much to everyone's amazement, was a massive

success," Yanover said. "What it also meant was that Chow Yun-Fat was an incredible, incredible force

in that movie and would be an incredible force in the 'Bulletproof Monk.'"

Although Chow was already a recognizable actor with a large fan base, he was

now a superstar. Giving a greenlight for the project became a no-brainer for

MGM.

Yanover seems to have a pattern of working with talent (like Oeming and

Chow) who are on the brink. He talked about a similar experience with the

"Men in Black" movie.

That movie had Tommy Lee Jones attached early

on and rising star Chris O'Donnell was set to play his young partner. O'Donnell

got cold feet though, as he was already playing Robin in the "Batman"

movies and was reluctant to do another comic book project.

"We were really disappointed. Then Will Smith became attached to

'Men in Black' and we

were like, 'Oh that's cool. Who's Will Smith? Oh yeah. The Fresh Prince of Bel

Air,'" Yanover said. "Independence Day" hadn't come out yet and

people weren't used to seeing him as a leading man.

But, of course,

"Independence Day" was a huge hit and "Men In Black" was

bigger still. "So the funny story is, can you imagine Chris O'Donnell in that movie instead

of Will Smith? Of course not. It would be a totally different movie."

Yanover

sees the same potential with "Bulletproof Monk's" co-star Seann

William Scott. His character was originally supposed to be played by Heath

Ledger, who would later drop out to make "The Order" instead. At that

point Scott entered the picture.

"This was Stiffler in

'American Pie.' Some people were going, 'Stiffler in American Pie? I'm not sure

about that,'" Yanover said of the reaction to the casting, "but I was thinking,

'this is gonna be Will Smith again! Chow and Scott might be pretty cool!'

"I think when you watch this movie you're going to think, 'How the hell could

anyone have been cast but Seann?'"

Yanover said that Scott proved well suited to the role of Kar, the

Bulletproof Monk's young ally.

"Kar was an off-beat character in a

sense. He wasn't a normal kind of kid. He couldn't be a pretty boy. He

couldn't be a too-slick character. He had to have kind of a very urban, interesting, kind of

different coloring to the character," the producer said. "Seann William

Scott: I

don't think of him as a pretty boy. I don't think anybody does, but I do think

of him as kind of an off-beat character, a slightly different look."

The producer wasn't surprised by Scott's enthusiastic work ethic on BPM. "He took this part really seriously. He wanted to really make it his own and

do a lot of his own stunts and really show his mettle as a performer,"

Yanover said. "He was

incredible, doing a lot of the stuff himself and he really worked at it."

So will this be the role that will make people forget Stiffler?

"I don't think people will forget Stiffler. I think he was great as Stiffler,"

Yanover said, "but I think

that people are going to say that Seann is capable of a lot of different things

and he's certainly capable of playing this part of an action hero."

Also in the cast of the film is Yanover himself, appearing in a small cameo

that is a nod to Stan Lee's appearance in the first "X-Men" movie.

Look for him to play the hot dog vendor in one scene.

With

few exceptions, Hollywood tends to view comic movies as franchise material.

Yanover admitted that there's been talk about sequels, but so far there're no

solid plans. That will depend on the movie's box office performance.

Flypaper

press has a new comic tying into the film, in stores now: "Bulletproof

Monk: Tales of the BPM." The book features a story written by Yanover and

Paniccia and illustrated by Oeming. The flipbook also has a story penned by

Voris and Reiff and illustrated by Tim Sale. Add to that, editorial pieces

by the four writers as well as Roven and Scott. As with previous Flypaper

titles, Image comics distributed the book.

In the

mean time, Yanover continues to develop ideas about non-traditional heroes under

the Flypaper banner for both comics and film.

Chow Yun-Fat,

Seann William

Scott and Jaime

King combat the forces of evil in "Bulletproof Monk" in theaters

everywhere April 16th.

 
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