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Iron Monkey - Movie Poster
Original Title:
Siu nin Wong Fei Hung ji: Tit Ma Lau

Hong Kong 1993

Martial Arts

Yuen Woo Ping

Yu Rong-Guang
Donnie Yen
Jean Wang Ching-Ying
Tsang Sze-Man
James Wong
Yen Shi-Kwan

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Iron Monkey

Story: Yang (Yu Rong-Guang) is an esteemed physician, but at night he becomes Iron Monkey, a fearless fighter who steals from corrupt officials and gives the poor. He is supported by Miss Orchid (Jean Wang), who also helps him out in his practice. The town's governor (James Wong) doesn't like this hero at all and after every attempt to catch Iron Monkey has failed he orders to have anyone arrested who somehow seems suspicious. That's just when Wong Kei-Ying (Donnie Yen) and his son Wong Fei-Hung (Tsang Sze-Man) enter the town and have to defend themselves against a bunch of thieves. They get arrested and are brought to the governor, who won't let them as well as numerous other captives go until Iron Monkey has been caught. Kei-Ying manages, thanks to his kung fu skills and his well-known name, to convince the governor to release the others. In return he needs to capture Iron Money in less than a week, though. Also, his son is hold captive as leverage. While searching for the hero of the poor Wong makes friends with Dr. Yang, but the face-off between the two seems to be inevitable.

Review: It's a little bit difficult to write a review about a movie that is so beloved like "Iron Monkey", especially if your opinion differs a bit. No, this martial art flick is in fact a well achieved genre entry, but it surely isn't one of the best kung fu movies of the 90s. All the exaggerated praise made me look for reasons why this film has been so well received, particularly by critics that normally don't watch any Hong Kong movies. "Iron Monkey" has been relatively well promoted in America thanks to Quentin Tarantino. What was simply standard to die-hard Hong Kong fans turned out to be almost a revelation to a new audience. And this even though the movie struggles with some serious problems.

Iron Monkey - Film Screenshot 11

Or isn't it a flaw that the story leaves a lot to be desired even for a HK production at that time? The story makes leaps and bounds as it sees fit in order to implement as many fights as possible. Actually, it isn't really clear who is in the center of events. Wong Kei-Yin? No, not really, even though the movie is always merchandised as a Donnie Yen flick, especially after the exponentially growing recognition of him after "Ip Man". Actually it's more likely Yu Rong-Guang ("Musa") as China's Robin Hood who stands in the foreground. Only towards the end the focus shifts a bit. The governor of the province doesn't pose a true threat, he's more of a laughing stock who Yang occasionally pokes fun at. A villain that can be taken serious only enters the stage near the finale.

Iron Monkey - Film Screenshot 12

While "Iron Monkey" at first is one single big and elaborate introduction of several characters the filmmakers miss to give the actual rivals necessary color. But that is ok, because making up for that there is at least someone who shows the skills to challenge our heroes in respect to their kung fu excellence and even pushes them to their limits. The fights are choreographed by director Yuen Woo-Ping himself, after all he is one of the best if not the best in his profession - his work for several martial arts flicks as recently Wong Kar-Wai's "The Grandmaster" leave no doubt about that. The fights naturally stand as this movie's highlight as well. There is a lot of wire-fu, but also enough traditional battles on the ground.

During a lot of scenes the use of wires seems more weird than outstanding. Technical finesse isn't something Yuen displays yet, also it's almost inexcusable that a lot of the displayed abilities of the two very talented martial art actors become lost in fights that are shot with way too much speed. This may have been in vogue in the early 90s, but it drains the movie of a lot of impact. Furthermore, there are some comedic scenes that work out pretty well, but on the other hand there are some special effects, particularly some very obviouse usage of giant dolls being kicked around, that are unintentionally funny. Also, you constantly hear that "Iron Monkey" is full of innovative fights. Aside from the showdown on burning logs there isn't really anything new achieved here.

Iron Monkey - Film Screenshot 13

As if proof was needed for that even young Wong Fei Hung makes an appearance in "Iron Monkey", defending himself with an umbrella and therefore standing as a well-done homage to Tsui Hark's "Once Upon a Time in China" which by the way is superior to "Iron Monkey" concerning the fights. At the bottom line it has to be stressed that this martial arts movie is maybe one of the most overrated, even the more since Yuen Woo Ping sat on the director's chair of "Tai Chi Master" in the same year, a movie where he could use his strength to his advantage and which all in all also seems more refined. Despite the said flaws there is no doubt, however, that "Iron Monkey" also can be a lot of fun along with its imperfectness. Hopefully, I didn't make the impression that it is a bad movie, though, because it surely isn't.

(Author: Manfred Selzer)
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