A full eight years after its initial release in its native Hong Kong, one of the finest – and final – examples of HK's "golden age" of action cinema finally sees the light of mainstream American movie theatres, thanks no doubt to the acclaim Yuen Woo-Ping has recently earned for his martial arts choreography in The Matrix and Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon.
Thanks to the success of Crouching Tiger, too, Miramax decided to release this film subtitled, rather than dubbed (as the studio has done with so many Jackie Chan movies). With only a few minor cuts and a decent new score by James Venable, Iron Monkey is fittingly repackaged for American audiences.
Set in 19th century China, the story follows the titular Iron Monkey (played by Yu Rong-Guang), a peaceful doctor who masquerades as a Zorro-like avenger at night, stealing gold from the corrupt governor and spreading it amongst the many impoverished immigrants of the region. The story spins into action when wandering fighter Wong Kei-Ying (Donnie Yen) arrives in town with his young son (played in drag by actress Tsang Sze-man, an amazing fighter in her own right), and is soon blackmailed into hunting down the Iron Monkey when his son is held captive by the governor. The matter becomes even more complicated after Wong befriends the Iron Monkey's daytime alter ego, Dr. Yang.
But you're here for the fight scenes! Although Yuen didn't choreograph them himself, he obviously knows how to film them, and they are among the most thrilling and inventive kung fu sequences in cinema. (A three-way battle atop a forest of burning poles will knock your socks off.) So if you liked Crouching Tiger, then for God's sake get out there and see Iron Monkey, which is every bit the real deal. It's got loads of action, a strong story, tolerable amounts of low humor, and rich performances.