A review of  Iron Monkey” by Jeanne Aufmuth

 

Stars: ***

Rating: PG-13 for intense fighting scenes. In Cantonese with English subtitles

Run Time: 1 hour, 25 minutes

 

Light on story content but heavy on masterful kung fu, this is an engaging action film (originally released in Asia in 1993) that sports some of the most impressive onscreen martial arts of the last decade.

And no wonder, considering that actor/choreographer Yuen Wo-Ping is attached.  Yuen is the mastermind behind the tricky balletic violence of “The Matrix” and “Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon”, and is a respected director in his own right (“The Red Wolf”).  With the aforementioned U.S. releases, Yuen’s visibility and popularity stateside has increased a thousand-fold, as has the artful genre.

In a tiny Chinese hamlet where government corruption is a way of life, respected Dr. Yang (Yu Rong Guong) dispenses medical care to the needy villagers.  This handsome Clark Kent  – mild-mannered health care professional by day, the superhero Iron Monkey by night, steals generously from the rich and gives to the poor.  The arrival of nationally renowned master fighter Wong Kei-Ying (Donnie Yen) changes all the rules.  The ruthless governor has taken Wong’s beloved son into custody, and promises to return him safely only after Iron Monkey is captured.  When Iron Monkey’s true identity is revealed to Wong, his respect for his foe’s talents creates a reluctant bond.  Coming to terms with their differences, the two rogue fighters join forces to combat the evil regime of the crooked Royal Minister (Yee Kwan Yan).

“Crouching Tiger” meets “Robin Hood” in this knock-your-socks-off display of glorious Shaolin kung-fu – each scene more beautifully choreographed (and seemingly impossible) than the next.  From a gentle, magical ballet of  gracefully gathering fallen papers to an intensely frightening burning pole battle, this is the real deal. Shadow Kicks and Buddhist Palm compete with Flying Sleeves and Monkey’s Rod for the discipline’s coolest moves. Chinese tomfoolery lends the difficult postures a comic ease that effortlessly masks the reality of the training and self-control necessary to achieve such expert physical feats.

Yu is fantastically charismatic – as lover, doctor, and human whirling dervish. A man whose smile speaks a thousand sexy words. His partner in crime is similarly blessed with a resilient presence, and the pair’s cohesive yin and yang is evident with each swift kick.  Supporting players are dramatically, almost childishly, enhanced – the cute-as-a-button son (Sze-Man Tsang, showing off some serious moves for a 10-year old) and the hard-as-nails under obedient surface love interest, Miss Orchid (Jean Wang).  Martial arts lovers rejoice!