Iron Monkey is a tale of two movies. First, let me assure you that “writing credits” in Hong Kong action films are a secondary (if that) concern. Movies are “envisioned” and then shot and “written” while the movie is in-production.
This is the case with Iron Monkey, which is an excellent action-adventure period film but a dreadful, well, everything else. Director Woo-ping Yuen is known primarily as a fight choreographer (he was responsible for the fights in The Matrix and before that, numerous Hong Kong movies). With Monkey, Yuen is crafting an action movie wrapped around a “story.” Let it be known that when the characters are not kicking each other’s respective buttocks, the movie is a mess.
The plot is pretty standard and easy enough to follow. Iron Monkey is a doctor by day, vigilante by night, who robs from the rich (most notably the crooked politicians in town) and gives to the poor. He also defends the weak and innocent as the masked Iron Monkey and as Doctor Yang, his civilian guise. Enter Wong Kei-Ying, played by Donnie Yen, who is something of a traveling doctor himself, and has come to town with his son Wong Fei-Hong. Father and son ends up being arrested in an Iron Monkey sweep by the cops (sort of profiling, but with martial arts people instead of minorities). In return for his son’s freedom, Wong must find and arrest the Iron Monkey.
Halfway through the movie, an evil monk, who is something of the provincial governor (I’m not quite sure of the Western equivalent to his title), makes an appearance as the film’s heavy. Up to now, we’ve only seen the crooked politicians in town played for laughs. The monk brings the necessary skills as the chief villain, and has a small army of toughs to help him take down the Iron Monkey.
When Yuen isn’t filming elaborate fights, he fails miserably as a director. There is a choppy feel to the non-action scenes that gives the impression those scenes were knitted together from countless hours of other “plot exposition” that didn’t quite make it into the final cut.
Still, I can’t help but like this movie. Iron Monkey is filled to the brim with some of the most inspired fight choreography I’ve ever seen. There are numerous one-shot scenes that are spectacularly done. Even better, there isn’t one or two memorable shots, but dozens. The actors are all accomplished martial artists and this brings legitimacy to the fights, something that is missing in films such as Legend of Zu and The Storm Riders.
There are little special effects in Iron Monkey besides the tried and true usage of wire-fu to help the characters fly and bounce and jump. And even that is very well done, showing the sure hands of a wire-fu veterans.
Woo-ping Yuen (director)
CAST: Rongguang Yu….Dr. Yang/Iron Monkey
Donnie Yen….Wong Kei-Ying
Jean Wang….Orchid Ho
Yee Kwan Yan….Hiu Hing