Iron Monkey

Review Date:
Director: Yuen Wo Ping
Writer: Tsui Hark, Elsa Tang, Lau Tai Mok
Producers: Tsui Hark
Yu Rong Guang as Iron Monkey, Donnie Yen as Wong Kei-Ying, Jean Wang as Miss Orchid
In the mid-19th century, thousands of peasants are being used and abused by the tyrannical leader of Zhejing, a province in Eastern China. One man (no, not a monkey) decides to take matters into his own hands by masking his identity and kicking a lot of bad guy ass. He also steals from the rich and gives to the poor. But another master fighter has now been hired to bring him to justice (and to find him, for that matter- who is this Iron Monkey?) Lots of chop-chopping later…we’re breathless.
What more can I say other than…a whole lotta ass-kickin’ fun! And coming from the dude who choreographed THE MATRIX and the CROUCHING TIGER fight sequences, what else did we expect, right? Yuen Wo Ping directed this movie back in 1993, and now Miramax Films and Quentin Tarantino are bringing it back to the big screen for all the “new” kung-fu movie fans to behold. Is it worth seeing? Ooooooh, yeah! Especially if you were one of those people who was entranced by the action scenes in CROUCHING TIGER last year, because this film has a lot of that and well…a whole lot more of that! It’s basically all about the fight scenes and they do not disappoint. Stunt work like you wouldn’t believe, people flying through the air, kicking each other while falling off rooftops, punching tables into others, crushing furniture into dust, using every and any means possible to defeat the enemy. Very creative stuff and very fun to watch, that is…if you like that kind of thing. The story here isn’t the poetic, epic or romantic one that CROUCHING was, so anyone looking for that kind of vibe, will likely be disappointed. This movie is basically all about kicking a lot of kung-fu butt and if you’re into that, and don’t mind watching it over and over again, then this movie is just for you. The story is “okay” for the most part, the IRON MONKEY character is basically like a Chinese version of ZORRO or ROBIN HOOD, fighting for the poor and all that jazz, and it shouldn’t be too difficult to keep up with the basic plotline (“who is Iron Monkey? We must stop him!”). Although, I suppose that the subtitles might piss some people off, but I didn’t have much of a problem with it.

There are also a lot of different kinds of fights in this movie, a couple of which include a woman at their center and another one with a kid crunching bones. I personally could have done without each of the fighters chiming in with the name of their specific combat stance as they were fighting, but maybe that’s just me. The film also has a few funny moments, like the cooking scene and another one in which two of the film’s lead characters dress up like politicians and ham it up. But in the beginning, in the end and in the middle of all the rest of this film, lies a whole lotta punchin’, kickin’, swingin’, proddin’, shovin’, jammin’ and iron monkeyin’, and that’s what will keep your eyes open for the film’s quick 90 minute runtime. And just when you think that you’ve had enough of the movie’s elaborate fight sequences, they finish off with one of the most amazing action scenes that I have seen in some time. Three men stand atop poles, with fires flaming on all around them, and proceed to punch, kick and jump at and over one another for minutes on end. This sequence will leave you speechless and had me rubbing my eyes over and over again, to make sure that I wasn’t dreaming. Truly spectacular. But this film is not for everyone. It’s very cartoonish, a little cheesy, is packed with action (although there are very few real deaths (if any?)) and doesn’t really give you a lot of meat in which to grind your mind. But then again, why bother with an intricate plotline when you can see a man fighting another man with his sleeve?!? Yeah man…it’s in film…see for yourself!

PS: The character of the young kid in this movie is named Wong Fei-Hong, a real-life, turn-of-the-century martial artist and patriot. He is the same character as an adult in the ONCE UPON A TIME IN CHINA flicks (in that sense, this film is like a prequel to that series) and Jackie Chan’s DRUNKEN MASTER movies. And even though very little was known about the real Wong Fei-Hong’s childhood, many legends were told, which is what drew writer Tsui Hark to write this tale of the IRON MONKEY.

(c) 2021 Berge Garabedian