Director: Yuen Woo Ping
Writer: Elsa Tang Pik Yin, Tsui Hark
Producer: Tsui Hark
Cast: Donnie Yen Chi Tan, Yu Rong Guang, Tsang Sze Man, Jean Wong Ching Ying, Yen Shi Kwan, Yuen Shun Yee, Lee Fai, Mandy Chan Chi Man, Hsiao Ho, James Wong Jim, Chan Siu Wah, Derek Cheung Chi Chuen, Cheung Fung Lei, Chun Kwai Bo, Dang Taai Woh
Running Time: 89 min.
This Yuen Woo Ping directed prequel to Once Upon A Time In China is about as wire-fu-crazy as a film can get. Though not necessarily a bad thing, it does require adequate suspension of disbelief. In fact, most of the battles in this movie are enhanced through editing or wires. This proves to be tiring in some respects, especially when there are no boundaries set on what exactly a martial artist can and cannot do. Running across rooftops seems to be permitted. Jumping straight up into the air and landing on the other sides of building can be done too. This maybe picky. But I wish we, as the viewer, knew the limits.
That said, this is a very entertaining film. Yu Rong Guang is simply amazing as the Robin Hoodesque Iron Monkey. Donnie Yen, in his best performance to date, plays Wong Kay-ying, the father of future folk hero Wong Fei Hong, with a certain stoic grace (if that makes sense). And surprisingly, Fei Hong is played by a girl in young boy drag. And his/her fight scenes, using an umbrella, are especially a treat.
What sets this one apart from other kung fu epics is the attention it pays to its characters, even with just an 86 minute running time. Even the whore-turned-doctor’s assistant is developed. It would be a throwaway role in most films of this genre, but Yuen and the screenwriters really want us to care for her. Yen shows immense likability in this role as well. In other of his films, he plays mostly surly, hot-headed guys. A real turn-off in an action hero, if you ask me. Yuen takes this type and makes him quietly emotional when it comes to the well being of his son, Fei Hong. The audience is immediately won over by this tough guy who simply doesn’t know how to express feelings of love for his son and thus, making him all the sterner.
I can’t end this review without mentioning that the end fight, taking place on burning poles, is just about the wildest fight sequence I have ever seen. I constantly found myself amazed at the audacity of the filmmaking. Then again, that is why we all love HK cinema.
Reefer’s Rating: 9/10
Hot DAMN! THIS, by fuck, is how you make a wire-fu movie. After sitting through one of those pre-movie advertisement slide shows that had four consecutive factoids on Britney Spears (so she covers “I Can’t Get No Satisfaction” on one of her albums, does she? How much you wanna bet there’s at least a million little girls out there who think SHE wrote that song instead of The Rolling Stones?), I sat back and had 85 or so of the most fun-filled minutes I’ve ever experienced in a movie theater.
What sets Iron Monkey apart from the BAD kind of wire-fu movie is that the wire tricks accentuate the fighting, rather than simply replacing it. In some cartoony shit like Butterfly & Sword, the characters fly around, throw little exploding thingies, bounce shit off their heads, and generally do just about anything EXCEPT hit each other. Not so here. People can’t fly…they can just jump really high. People can’t fire death rays from their fingers…they have to take people out the old-fashioned way. Undercranking is used in moderation, which still looks kind of silly at times, but I’ve seen worse. MUCH worse. The silliest thing to be found here is the head bad guy’s expanding sleeve (which somebody actually balances on). Aside from that, it doesn’t get too carried away.
Yuen Wo Ping uses the “widow forced to sell herself to bury her dead husband” bit again in Wing Chun. Just thought I’d mention that for the hell of it.
The thing that bothered me the most wasn’t the movie itself…it was three black youths in the theater who thought just about every little thing they saw was either riotously funny or deserving of an “OOOooOOoHhhH!!!” of pain by proxy. And speaking of which, what’s this “director by proxy” shit where Quentin Tarantino is concerned? Asshole.
Loads of fun…highly recommended.
By the way, I read somewhere that the kid who plays young Wong Fei Hung is actually a girl.
I thought they stopped doing that kind of thing back in the ’60s?
Numskull’s Rating: 8/10
By Vic Nguyen
Tsui Hark produced this Yuen Woo-ping martial arts adventure depicting the exploits of a Chinese Robin Hood known as the Iron Monkey. Here, Wong Key-ying, played by Donnie Yen, is assigned by the government to take down the Iron Monkey, but not before collaborating with his intended target in order to take down the government themselves. Acclaimed by enthusiasts as the definitive modern martial arts movie, this film contains excellent wire fu choreography by Yuen Woo-ping, star turns by Donnie Yen and Yu Rong-guang, and some decent slapstick humor. Recommended to anyone in need of a good, old fashioned wire fu movie.
Vic Nguyen’s Rating: 8.5/10