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Michael Yanover talks about ‘Bulletproof Monk’

by  in Movie News, TV News Comment


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 making this 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.