Iron Monkey 2 (1996) Review

"Iron Monkey 2" Japanese DVD Cover

“Iron Monkey 2” Japanese DVD Cover

Director: Chiu Lo-Kong
Producer: Lan Tin Hung, Lee Shin
Cast: Donnie Yen, Billy Chow Bei Lei, Wu Ma, Alan Lee, Yuen Man Hing, Cheung, Kin Li, Li Wing, Han Wan Chong
Running Time: 92 min.

By Paul Bramhall

There are some movies out there that, with the very mention of their name, seem to cause confusion, and Iron Monkey 2 is without doubt one of those. A sequel to Yuen Woo Ping’s 1993 new wave classic that featured Yu Rong-Guang as the titular character, and Donnie Yen as Wong Kei-Ying, the sequel has a remarkable amount of misinformation about it floating around on the net. As good a place to start a review as any, is at least by attempting to debunk some of the claims that seem to be out there regarding the production.

For starters, there are some sites that claim Iron Monkey 2 isn’t a true sequel to Iron Monkey at all, and is in fact a re-title, similar to how in the UK, 1991’s The Last Blood was re-titled Hard Boiled 2, despite the fact that Hard Boiled was made a year later. The recurring theme to these claims, is that none of them mention the name of the movie that they believe it to be, and there’s a reason for that – Iron Monkey 2 is in fact a true sequel, despite the significant differences to the original (we’ll get to those later). Next up comes the claim that the sequel, like the original, was directed by Yuen Woo-Ping. The US Tai Seng DVD is the guilty party in question as the source of this, however it was in fact directed by Chiu Lo-Kong, a prolific assistant director, but as a solo outing he only directed 3 movies, of which Iron Monkey 2 was his last.

However the action is credited to Woo-Ping, which makes it more interesting considering it’s well documented that he and his protégé, Donnie Yen, had a falling out during the making of Wing Chun in 1994, a couple of years prior. Yen here returns not as Kei-Ying, but as the Iron Monkey character (although just to confuse matters further, not the Iron Monkey that Rong-Guang plays in the original, as the sequel takes place in a different era). Yen’s role in the production is less clear, with some sources quoting him as saying he was only supposed to have a cameo appearance, but his role kept on being expanded, much to his dismay. Others sources say that Yen’s sporadic appearances are due to his own poor onset behaviour, which resulted in many scenes being filmed without him. We’ll likely never know the truth, however as the title character, it would be somewhat odd for him to only have a cameo appearance. Imagine watching Ip Man to find out he only appears for 10 minutes.

Whatever the case maybe, Iron Monkey 2 is a baffling entry in the filmographies of both Yen and Woo-Ping, not entirely for all negative reasons. The opening 10 minutes alone are sheer insanity, which have us introduced to a mullet adorned bad guy (played by Chang Jian-Li, a stalwart of such Taiwan new wave classics like 21 Red List and Revanchist), feature a flying guillotine which decapitates someone’s head, and gives us Yen as Iron Monkey, wearing a pointy brass hat and cape while flying up the screen. Yes, this is a world away from the original. Gone are the black ninja like threads that were the choice of Iron Monkey guise 3 years earlier, and in their place is one of the campest getups you’ve ever seen. Keeping with the bizarre tone that permeates throughout the sequel though, outside of these standalone scenes that have Yen flying vertically up the screen in his pointy brass hat and cape, he doesn’t actually wear the costume in any other scene.

Due to the nature of Yen’s there one minute, gone the next performance, the story doesn’t really have any focus. He’s the title character, but in fact the main story doesn’t really involve him at all. Jian-Le plays the Japanese army general bad guy, doing the usual routine of supressing the Chinese, and a pair of mischievous brother and sister orphans (who, should be noted, are adults) get involved in a scheme to overthrow him, when the town offers a reward to Iron Monkey if he’ll help them. Of course, as nobody knows the identity of Iron Monkey, the brother orphan declares that he’s the Iron Monkey, and takes the payment. Somewhere in-between, another orphan, played by Liu Geng-Hong, shows up trying to track down his father, who is played by Wu Ma (but he doesn’t know that Wu Ma is his father). Ma is friends with Yen, as they have soulful conversations together in church, and somehow all five of them unconvincingly end up connected to each other in order to take down Jian-Le.

If you’re thinking the above is a particularly sloppy effort at a plot description, allow me to defend myself and say that it’s only as sloppy as it appears onscreen. The characters and circumstances they find themselves in are completely unconvincing, which ultimately result in it being rather unclear as to what the point of everything is. But let’s keep it simple – basically Yen, Wu Ma, and a trio of orphans will try to take down Jian-Le and the assassin that he hires, played by super kicker Billy Chow. While Chow doesn’t appear until an hour in, he does provide the main opponent for Yen to face off against in the finale. It’s also worth noting that Geng-Hong has some impressive action chops, and displays some fine displays of aerial kicking that are a pleasure to watch, even with the undercranking.

Despite Woo-Ping’s title of action chorographer, it bears surprisingly few of his trademarks, in fact the hyper undercranking and completely over the top wirework are more suggestive that the choreography was a collaboration between Yen and Jian-Li. Nothing says mid-90’s Donnie Yen choreography as when he unleashes his punches and kicks in a 100mph flurry of motion. Iron Monkey 2 would be the last production that Yen would feature in before going on to try his hand at directing with 1997’s Legend of the Wolf, and the choreography is similar enough to warrant the opinion that Woo-Ping likely had very little involvement, despite his name being attached.

The lack of Woo-Ping’s trademark choreography isn’t a completely bad thing though, as the action in Iron Monkey 2 is of such a manic nature, that it certainly entertains if expectations are set accordingly. I mentioned that the action could possibly have input from Jian-Li, as the style of the scenes is remarkably similar to the super powered throwdowns found in 21 Red List and Revanchist. The finale in particular is essentially a hand-to-hand version of the insane bullet ballet that closes Revanchist. Taking place in a large hall (again very similar to Revanchist), Yen and Geng-Hong team up to take on Jian-Le and Chow, and proceed to destroy the whole interior of the hall in the process. Scaffolding is kicked into deadly projectiles, bannisters are decimated, and at one point Yen even kicks up a whole row of floor boards at Chow. It’s completely ridiculous, but if you forget about the original for a minute, the gratuitous destruction is wildly entertaining to watch.

Outside of the action, the cheap production values of Iron Monkey 2 also serve in providing a certain level of entertainment. You remember the scenes in Ip Man when the streets are adorned with Japanese Imperial Army flags? Well, Iron Monkey 2 is going for a similar aesthetic, only the flags the streets are lined with are the same type you’d find in an international pub, so instead you have the American, UK, Germany, Japan, and various other countries flags all next to each other. Lo-Kong must have bought them from the nearest party supplies store, and they’re so out of place that it’s impossible not to smile. The same set is also recycled throughout, with the church that Yen and Wu Ma meet in also doubling as the same area the finale takes place in, given away by the fact the colourful windows are exactly the same in both scenes.

Throw in a gweilo arms dealer dressed as the Man with no Name (complete with hat and poncho), bodies doubled with exploding papier-mâché figures, and one of the most hilariously cruel death scenes for the main villain that you’re likely to see in a kung fu movie, and you have Iron Monkey 2. Is the sequel deserving of the poor reputation that it comes with? Yes and no. Both the original Iron Monkey and the sequel received DVD releases around the same time in the west, so many fans may have watched them very close to each other, which would have been a jarring experience to say the least. However taken on its own, Iron Monkey 2 is a worthwhile slice of mid-90’s HK madness, with enough action and ‘only in HK cinema’ moments to classify it as worth a watch. Now if only there was more of the pointy brass hat and cape.

Paul Bramhall’s Rating: 6/10

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