Written by: Tai-Muk Lau, Cheung Tan, Pik-yin Tang, Hark Tsui
Directed by: Woo-ping Yuen
Starring: Rongguang Yu, Donnie Yen, Jean Wang, and Sze-Man Tsang
- Quentin Tarantino interview
- Donnie Yen interview
- Score medley
- English and Chinese language tracks
- English subtitles
- Enhanced for 16×9 TVs
Released by: Miramax
My Advice: Own it.
Originally released in 1993, Iron Monkey was a huge hit in its native Hong Kong, but due to the relative lack of interest in such things, it was virtually unheard of in the United States. A mediocre VHS release was relegated to the dusty corners of video stores, and only the die-hard wuxia fans knew it existed. But following the success of Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon, Western audiences were suddenly clamoring for more quality kung-fu flicks, and Quentin Tarantino offered up Iron Monkey, complete with a brand new score and some remastering. And now you can have it on DVD.
[ad#longpost]The story is pretty familiar fare: an oppressive government forces one man to take up arms and a disguise to help the poor survive in an unjust land. Very Robin Hood type stuff. But Kevin Costner never righteously kicked this much ass. By day, Dr. Yang runs a clinic where he welcomes the unfortunate for medical treatment. By night, he dons a mask and makes the local constabulary look like idiots, stealing money from the governor and his toadies to be redistributed among the poor. And banging most of said constabulary up so badly that they appear on his doorstep the next day for medical assistance. Not a bad racket, all things considered. He feeds the poor and gets more business for himself.
Enter Wong Kei-Ying, a travelling herbalist and doctor in his own right, with his son, Wong Fei-Hung. While travelling through the area, the Wongs are taken into custody (along with a dozen other people), and accused of being the dangerous Iron Monkey. Until someone confesses, all the accused will be held prisoner. Wong Kei-Ying offers to capture the Iron Monkey, being something of a butt-kicking kung fu master himself, and the governor agrees, provided he leaves his son in custody as insurance. Placed in this difficult position, he fights with, but ultimately befriends Iron Monkey, and they run the trash out of town in a frenzy of flying feet and improbable acrobatics.
Iron Monkey is a great film, and deserves its place as a modern classic of the genre. While not nearly so dramatic and serious as Crouching Tiger, it still tells an interesting story, and in the scope of Chinese legend, introduces the young Wong Fei-Hung, portrayed by Jet Li in a string of Once Upon A Time in China movies (six at last count). The director, Woo-Ping Yuen, is probably better known in this country as the fight choreographer for The Matrix and CTHD, but his directorial credits include more than two dozen kung-fu flicks over the past two decades, and he’s largely regarded as one of the masters of the genre. His inventiveness in fight choreography is nowhere more evident than in the young Wong Fei-Hung’s
“umbrella fu” incident, one of the film’s best fight sequences.
The addition of the new score and the remastering that occurred for the 2001 American re-release actually add some depth to the viewing experience, and generally boost the production values all the way around. The image and sound quality of the DVD are both top-notch, with only minimal evidence of the film stock’s actual age. The English dub parallels the subtitle translation nearly exactly, and the voice-acting is quite good. Visual effects are the same sort of “wire fu” common to films of the genre, but if you didn’t mind them in CTHD, you won’t mind ’em here.
The DVD extras are decent, if not outstanding, including an interview with star Donnie Yen and American producer Quentin Tarantino. Both give a better idea of the importance of this film in the context of wuxia movies as a whole. It would have been nice to hear something from Woo-Ping Yuen himself, or have some information about what sort of effort had to be made to re-release a decade-old film as a hopeful blockbuster in the United States.
If you dig on some kung-fu, this one’s a no-brainer. As a straight-ahead action flick, it can come across a little silly (especially if you have problems with the more flagrant moments of wire-work), but it’s still a good time. Think CTHD meets Big Trouble in Little China, and you’re starting to get the right idea.