Michael Yanover talks about 'Bulletproof Monk'

Thisweek the comic book adaptation "Bulletproof Monk" opens intheaters everywhere. "BPM" may be the year's least anticipated comicmovie but it may also be this year's "Men In Black": an obscureproperty that explodes to a whole new level on the big screen. 

Comics2Film/CBRNews spoke with Michael Yanover, the comic's publisher and co-creator atFlypaper Press, about his experiences developing the property and shepherding itinto cinemas.

Yanover founded Flypaper Press with partner Mark Paniccia. The pair had worked together atMalibu Comics (the point of origin for "Men in Black") and set out tocreate 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 wouldemphasize heroes whose power didn't come from fantastic, sci-fi origins. "They have a power within themselves that needs to bediscovered. Part of the theory is that that's in all of us, that we're all capable offantastic things if we allow ourselves to tap into that. That's kind of the Flypaper mantra."

Yanoverand Paniccia would then develop concepts and hire writers and artists to executethose ideas. Once such concept had the pair hoping to blend elements of theirfavorite forms of entertainment in a way that hadn't been done before. 

"[We] said let's put togetherthis comic combining the coolness of kung fu action, John Woo style movie-makingwith a 'Star Wars' mythology, set in an urban setting," Yanoversaid. "Let's combine thesetwo worlds and mate it with a comic book sensibility. We figured nobody hadreally done that before."

Although Hong Kong movies were slowly gainingan audience in the U.S. in the mid-nineties, Yanover and Paniccia were hoping todevelop a concept that was compelling on a different level. 

"We said, lets combine them and see if we cantell a martial arts story but lay down a cool character story, a cool mythologyunderneath it. Tell the traditional martial arts stories, but infuse them with a sense ofcharacter."

They dubbed the project "Bulletproof Monk." Then it was time tohire a creative team. They had previously done a comic called "Invisible9" with an up-and-coming artist who they enjoyed working with.

"We thought he could give it a really cool look. He hadnever done any martial arts stuff before, to my knowledge. This was the firstthing that he'd done and we didn't really know that he was going to be soamazing at that genre," Yanover said, "He was kind of anup-and-comer, but we just loved his style. We fell in love with him. It wasn'tjust his style. He's a great guy to work with."

That artist was noneother than Michael Avon Oeming, who has become a superstar in comic book circlesever 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 cameon board and the book was underway, but another critical element would comeshortly thereafter.

"Gotham Chopra had come to us with a project of his own that he wanted todo as a comic book," Yanover said, but instead of doing that, thepublishers saw an opportunity and quickly brought him intothe project to lend his ideas about inner peace and Buddhist principles. "We thought, this is a character that wewanted 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 boxoffice success, Yanover said there were definite thoughts about branching outwith this new comic.

"Ivery early on thought, 'this is kind of a John Woo style of film,'" Yanovertold C2F, "butI also thought this would be something new. We could take this to John Woo as anurban, American style of film with the Hong Kong action, which was combining thetwo 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 producingpartner Terence Chang to discuss the project. They became immediately intriguedand continued to watch the book develop over its three issue run.

With Woo and Chang involved, Yanover's work as an executive producer trulybegan. "My role [was in] getting it packaged, bringing the elements togetherand selling it. I was the engine driving the train of this project, in terms ofwanting to see it adapted into a movie and working with the people to get itadapted."

Yanover developed the idea further with Lion Rock, who had along-standing relationship with Chow Yun-Fat. The actor became attached to theproject very early on. 

The star helped attract other talent too.Screenwriters Ethan Reiffand Cy Voris were the next pieces to the puzzle. They were gaining a reputationfor adapting comic books. "They were chomping at the bit to work with ChowYun-Fat."

With as an actor like Chow in the lead, the writers were faced with a specialchallenge in adapting the book. "It was clear that this Bulletproof Monk character inthe movie was going to have to play a more prominent role than being thebackground mythology," Yanover said. 

"So they came up with a mechanism to put Kar and the Bulletproof Monkon the screen together at the same time, which is actually a very elegant thingthat they did and works well in the film."

Another addition to the project came with producer Chuck Roven and his MosaicMedia, who had been behind movies like "Scooby Doo" and "ThreeKings."

"When Chuck Roven and the Mosaic team came aboard that's when theproject kicked into high-gear," Yanover said. "Chuck really drove thisfilm 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 ChowYun-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 massivesuccess," Yanover said. "What it also meant was that Chow Yun-Fat was an incredible, incredible forcein 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 wasnow a superstar. Giving a greenlight for the project became a no-brainer forMGM.

Yanover seems to have a pattern of working with talent (like Oeming andChow) who are on the brink. He talked about a similar experience with the"Men in Black" movie.

That movie had Tommy Lee Jones attached earlyon and rising star Chris O'Donnell was set to play his young partner. O'Donnellgot 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 wewere like, 'Oh that's cool. Who's Will Smith? Oh yeah. The Fresh Prince of BelAir,'" Yanover said. "Independence Day" hadn't come out yet andpeople weren't used to seeing him as a leading man.

But, of course,"Independence Day" was a huge hit and "Men In Black" wasbigger still. "So the funny story is, can you imagine Chris O'Donnell in that movie insteadof Will Smith? Of course not. It would be a totally different movie."

Yanoversees the same potential with "Bulletproof Monk's" co-star SeannWilliam Scott. His character was originally supposed to be played by HeathLedger, who would later drop out to make "The Order" instead. At thatpoint Scott entered the picture.

"This was Stiffler in'American Pie.' Some people were going, 'Stiffler in American Pie? I'm not sureabout 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 couldanyone have been cast but Seann?'"

Yanover said that Scott proved well suited to the role of Kar, theBulletproof Monk's young ally. 

"Kar was an off-beat character in asense.  He wasn't a normal kind of kid. He couldn't be a pretty boy. Hecouldn't be a too-slick character. He had to have kind of a very urban, interesting, kind ofdifferent coloring to the character," the producer said. "Seann WilliamScott:  Idon't think of him as a pretty boy. I don't think anybody does, but I do thinkof 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 anddo a lot of his own stunts and really show his mettle as a performer,"Yanover said. "He wasincredible, 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 thinkthat people are going to say that Seann is capable of a lot of different thingsand 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 cameothat 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.

Withfew exceptions, Hollywood tends to view comic movies as franchise material.Yanover admitted that there's been talk about sequels, but so far there're nosolid plans. That will depend on the movie's box office performance.

Flypaperpress has a new comic tying into the film, in stores now: "BulletproofMonk: Tales of the BPM." The book features a story written by Yanover andPaniccia and illustrated by Oeming. The flipbook also has a story penned byVoris and Reiff and illustrated by Tim Sale.  Add to that, editorial piecesby the four writers as well as Roven and Scott. As with previous Flypapertitles, Image comics distributed the book.

In themean time, Yanover continues to develop ideas about non-traditional heroes underthe Flypaper banner for both comics and film.

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