Iron Monkey (1993/2001)
Written by Tsui Hark
Directed by Yuen Woo-ping
Runtime 90 min.
4 out of 5
Like Robin Hood, the Iron Monkey robs from the rich and gives to the poor, but instead of wielding a bow and arrow and sword, he wears a mask and uses martial arts weapons instead.
By day, Chinese doctor Yang Tianchun (Rongguang Yu) is a physician caring for the poor and rich alike, but at night he’s the Iron Monkey, a high-kicking do-gooder assisting those in need who are suffering beneath the rule of the corrupt governor.
Meanwhile, Wong Kei-Ying (Donnie Yen) and his son Wong Fei-hong (Sze-Man Tsang) come into town. Soon after, Wong Kei-Ying is captured on suspicion of being the Iron Monkey after being observed in battle. His son is arrested as well. In an effort to clear himself, he offers to capture the real Iron Monkey, his son being forced to remain in prison to ensure his compliance.
Soon Wong Kei-Ying and the Iron Monkey meet and, after going toe-to-toe with no victor, form an alliance that will rescue Wong Fei-hong from prison and bring down the evil governor once and for all.
This movie kicks some serious wa-hoo-hoo and I’m not just saying that because of the awesome kung fu sequences, but because of it’s fun presentation of a classic story—Robin Hood—through the lens of Chinese culture, martial arts and fast-paced action.
Quentin Tarantino brought the flick over to the West and I’m glad he did. I’m 99% sure I went to the theatre to check out this gem and it soon got a place in my DVD collection once it hit store shelves.
What can I say? The fight sequences are over-the-top—wire acts, crazy fast kicks—but those are what make kung fu movies great and give the fight performances that supernatural feel that can’t be obtained otherwise.
The superhero fan part of me had never seen a kung fu superhero movie, and when I compare it to the Western version of martial arts techniques that we get in our own superhero flicks, sadly, we come up short every time. I mean, this crazy, fast-paced over-the-top form of fighting is one of the main reasons The Matrix became so popular.
There is lots that goes on in this movie storywise, everything from the simple rob-from-the-rich-to-feed-the-poor angle to Wong Kei-Ying’s tense relationship with his son, to commentary on oppression and what’s fair and what isn’t, to comedic moments, tear-jerking moments, to adrenaline-fueled action—it’s a full experience, something that Quentin Tarantino said in an interview on the DVD that is common in Chinese cinema but not really over here in the West. I think we need to learn a thing or two about moviemaking from our Chinese friends instead of compartmentalizing everything into genres and niches.
If you love folk heroes like Robin Hood, or are a superhero fan, Iron Monkey should definitely be on your watch list.