The corrupt leaders of England were no match for Robin Hood, Batman protects Gotham, and Chinese peasants of the 1850s had the Iron Monkey as their protector and champion.
The film “Iron Monkey” was released in 1993 but has now been trimmed, restored and re-released to capitalize on the popularity of its director, Yuen Wo Ping, who was fight choreographer for “Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon” and “The Matrix.”
Iron Monkey is the alter ego of respected physician Dr. Yang (Yu Rong Guang). By day, he treats poor people for free and charges the rich exorbitant sums; by night, he steals gold from the fat cats and delivers it, Santa Claus-style, to the desperate and downtrodden.
The governor (James Wong) wants Iron Monkey caught and orders a round-up of anyone who could possibly be him. This includes an organ grinder and a man accused of “sneezing like a monkey.”
It also includes visiting physician Wong Kei-Ying (Donnie Yen) and his young son Wong Fei-Hong (Tsang Sze Man). When the governor sees Kei-Ying’s fighting skills, he orders him to capture the Iron Monkey — and holds Fei-Hong captive until he does so.
As fate would have it, Kei-Ying becomes friends with Dr. Yang and his assistant Miss Orchid (Jean Wang), unaware of Kei-Ying’s secret identity. This helps make the film a rarity in the martial-arts genre: There’s a good storyline that makes the between-the-fights scenes as entertaining as the actual fisticuffs.
Sly humor and jovial wit abound. Iron Monkey shaves off the governor’s eyebrow at one point, just to taunt him, and there’s a wonderful scene in which Dr. Yang and Kei-Ying argue over the latter’s parenting skills. The characters are fun and the dialogue is snappy.
Oh, and the whole thing’s pretty darn exciting, too, with fight sequences that are incredibly fast-paced, inventive and thrilling. Much of it is hand-to-hand stuff, with plenty of projectiles, but one also sees the sort of gravity defiance that would later make “Crouching Tiger” such a landmark film. The fact that several of these fight scenes have a child as their principal warrior is all the more interesting.
The finale, in which the principals fight while standing atop wooden posts as flames lick their feet, is astoundingly entertaining. Imaginative, clever and heart-stopping, “Iron Monkey” rises above its silly title and makes us wonder what other “lost” movies Yuen Wo Ping has for us to rediscover.
A- (; )