Iron Monkey (1993) / Action-Fantasy
MPAA Rated: PG-13 for martial arts action/violence and brief sexuality
Running Time: 90 min.
Cast: Donnie Yen, Yu Rongguang, Jean Wang, James Wong
Director: Yuen Woo-ping
Review published October 13, 2001
Right before director Yuen Woo-ping would direct his almost equally amazing WING CHUN, and six years before he would become the choreographer for THE MATRIX and CROUCHING TIGER HIDDEN DRAGON, Yuen Woo-ping delivered this cult gem of Hong Kong kung fu cinema known as IRON MONKEY. Albeit mostly unknown to anyone not a fanatic of the genre, this 1993 film has, with the help of Hong Kong aficionado Quentin Tarantino, been delivered to the shores of the United States. Even though many have since offered similar styles of action, most of which are made even more amazing with use of computer generated images, this is classic wire-fu action that is still breathtaking to watch even today.
If you want to know the gist of the plot, think Robin Hood. A Chinese town is under siege by a mysterious but skilled fighter known as Iron Monkey, who uses his superior kung fu to snatch the riches of the corrupt and deliver them to the poor common folk of the village. After little success in using the bumbling police department to snare the crafty warrior, the Governor of the province forces a traveling martial artist to capture the Iron Monkey or lose his young son to the dungeon.
The final fight scene alone would more than justify whatever price needs to be paid for admission. IRON MONKEY is an engaging kung fu spectacle that almost doesn't allow you to catch your breath from all of the high-flying action pieces, brilliantly choreographed to perfection by Woo-ping. But fighting is not all the film contains. There is a nifty storyline involving the two foils, who are both fighting for good and with whom we root for equally. There is an endearing relationship between a man and his boy (played to a tee by a girl), who later turns out to be the Chinese hero of ONCE UPON A TIME IN CHINA, Wong Fei-Hung. Plus there is also a great villainous performance by the always terrific Yan Kwan Yee.
Those who loved the fighting in CROUCHING TIGER HIDDEN DRAGON should definitely check out IRON MONKEY to sate their hunger for more. Although artistically not as important as the Oscar-nominated classic, this delivers all of the kung fu action one could possibly want and then some. While some may not find this sort of film their cup of tea, in the world of kung fu cinema, IRON MONKEY is one of the greatest ever and gets the highest of recommendations from me.
©2001 Vince Leo