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Iron Monkey

movie reviewmovie review out of 4

All-Reviews.com Movie Review: Iron Monkey

Starring: Yu Rong Guang, Donnie Yen
Director: Yuen Woo Ping
Rated: PG-13
RunTime: 85 Minutes
Release Date: October 2001
Genres: Action, Foreign


*Also starring: Yee Kwan Yan, Jean Wang, Shun-Yee Yuen, Sze-Man Tsang



Review by Harvey Karten
No Rating Supplied

As I watched these martial artists fly and get thrown across whole rooms, I wondered whether I should have continued my kung fu training past my current green-belt status. After all, a couple of years more, who knows? I could have been a contender. I could have followed my new hero, Yu Rong Guang in the role of Dr. Yang (the eponymous character), and launched a quest for justice, taking from the rich and giving to the poor. It's really not that difficult to do all of this once you have the training and discipline and to prove this, watch Tsang Sez Man in the role of 10-year-old Wong Fei Hong as he follows in the footsteps of his father, Wong Kei-Ying (played by Donnie Yen), beating up renegade monks--who are 19th Century China's equivalent of today's rogue cops (think Alonzo Harris of the LAPD). And get this: not only are big guys by the score knocked through the woodwork by this kid but the kid in real life is a girl! Ah, but I was too busy practicing piano to do what could have made me a hero.

"Siunin Wong Fei-hung tsi titmalau" as "Iron Monkey" is called in Cantonese, is available in DVD. but not this tightened version. This time Miramax is releasing the 1993 movie newly restored with better English subtitles and what director Yuen Wo Ping ("Drunken Master" and choreographer of the high-flying fight sequences in "Crouching Tiger Hidden Dragon") considers improved music. This Hong Kong actioner doesn't have much of a story: given its brief 90-minute run, Yuen is determined to show his audience just about every cool move in the martial arts film repertory, the most deadly being the Buddha's Palm which, when imprinted on your enemy's back causes his death by poison within a half hour.

While the story is not told particularly from the POV of 10-year- old Wong Fei Hung, we are to imagine that this forms his background and will lead him (again: played by a her) to become a real-life legend. The tale takes place during the Qing Dynasty in 1853 in the Eastern Chinese province of Zhejing. A governor (James Wong), corrupt of course, has been hoarding food while others go hungry (think Saddam Hussein today, who makes money exporting food while blaming national Iraqi starvation on a U.S. embargo). The Iron Monkey, seeking revenge for the assassination of his father, appears out of nowhere, usually at night, a mask covering the lower portion of his face, as he strikes out against this corrupt government, taking their gold and dim sum and distributing goodies to a worshipping populace of the poor. Occasionally he teams up with his sweetheart, the unassuming Miss Orchid (Jean Wang), to do battle. Little does anyone know that in reality the Monkey is a doctor who dispenses herbs without charge to the poor while charging American-sized sums to those who can afford his medicine.

Monkey meets his match when a traveler from the south, Wong Kei-Ying (Donnie Yen), fights the simian-like champion to a draw and leaves his 10-year-old boy to clean up the guys who are still in the ring after a minute or two. When the governor captures the kid, promising to release him only if Wong captures the Monkey, Wong looks to pick a fight and save his little boy by collaring Dr. Yang.

Director Yuen takes a middle ground between the relatively realistic fights that Jackie Chan regularly engages in and the over-the-treetops fantasy ("Crouching Tiger") known as the wu hsia school of Hong Kong actioner. The concluding battle is a doozy, featuring the Iron Monkey and Wong (who is now an ally) fighting the rough-tough royal minister (Yen Yee Kwan) while balancing on poles. Now when we say "balancing on poles" we don't mean the simple stuff done in the circus. We're talking maintaining our equilibrium on the top of the poles which are standing up on edge, perhaps 25 feet high. That's not all. A fire is blazing below. (In the Hong Kong dramas of the 50s, the fires were real but today's stunt people prefer the more modern method of having a member of the crew turn the fake flames on or off as if cooking with a gas stove.)

There's even some fancy cooking going on in this delightful picture, including the tossing of assorted ingredients in a wok that would make even a master pizza baker look with awe. "The Iron Monkey" is a high-flying, engaging, and in many parts downright comical piece of choreographed motion that could have given our own Jerome Robbins some pointers for his Broadway musicals.

Copyright 2001 Harvey Karten

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