Eureka Entertainment presents for the first time on Blu-ray in the UK a new 2K restored version of one of the most exhilarating martial arts movies of all time, Iron Monkey! Produced by Tsui Hark, directed by Yuen Woo-ping and starring Donnie Yen and Yu Rongguang.
Action superstar Donnie Yen is the martial arts legend “Wong Kei-ying“. Having played back-to-back villainous roles in the Tsui Hark-produced “Once Upon a Time in China 2” and “New Dragon Gate Inn”, he ventured into heroic territory as the noble, real-life martial artist, Wong Kei-ying.
Chinese martial artist and actor Yu Rongguang stars as “Yang Tianchun/Iron Monkey”. The son of a popular Peking Opera actor, Yu has appeared in films such as Jet Li‘s “My Father is a Hero”, and several Jackie Chan films including “Shanghai Noon”, “New Police Story”, “The Myth”, “Little Big Soldier”, “The Karate Kid” and “Police Story 2013: Lockdown”.
Taiwanese model Jean Wang plays Yang Tianchun’s assistant, “Miss Orchid”. Wang had previously appeared in the wuxia movie “Swordsman III: East is Red” and would go on to play “Aunt May” in the 4th, 5th and 6th instalments of the “Once Upon a Time in China” series of films.
13-year old Hong Kong wushu athlete Angie Tsang Sze-Man plays the young “Wong Fei-hung”. This would be her only significant movie role apart from a small part in an obscure action comedy called “Combo Cops”, that also featured her Iron Monkey co-star, Yu Rongguang.
Martial arts movie veteran Yen Shi-kwan stars as the wicked Shaolin traitor “Hin-hung”. Yen has appeared in over 130 films since the 1950’s, in titles such as “One Armed Swordsman”, “Boxer from Shantung”, “King Boxer”, “Iron Fisted Monk”, “Fearless Hyena“, and “Once Upon a Time in China”, to name but a few.
Hong Kong columnist, actor, film director, screenwriter, talk show host, and Cantopop lyricist, James Wong plays “Governor Cheng”. Many of the songs he wrote became popular as themes for television and film, including the martial arts movies “A Chinese Ghost Story”, “The Swordsman” and the famous “A Man Should Stand Strong” from “Once Upon a Time in China”. He made many appearances in movies, including small roles in “Flirting Scholar”, “Twin Dragons”, and “Tiger on the Beat”.
Action Director, actor and brother of Yuen Woo-ping, Yuen Shun-yi plays “Fox”, the Governor’s Chief Constable. Being a member of the famous Yuen Clan dictates that he has worked on some of the most significant martial arts films to ever have emerged out of Hong Kong. Usually assisting his famous brother Woo-ping, he has helped forge the action in movies such as “Snake in the Eagle’s Shadow”, “Drunken Master”, “Magnificent Butcher”, “Fist of Legend”, “Kung Fu Hustle”, “Fearless”, “Man of Tai Chi”, “Ip Man 3” and many, many more.
Actress and stunt performer Lee Fai is “White Eagle”, one of Hin-hung’s disciples. She has appeared in “A Chinese Ghost Story 2”, “Royal Tramp” (I & II), “Angel Terminators 2”, “Legend of the Dragon” and “Champion”.
Veteran Hong Kong martial arts film actor, stunt performer and action choreographer, Hsiao Ho plays “Disfigured Swordsman”, who is also a student of Hin-hung’s. Trained in Beijing opera, he began his career in movies at the age of 17 under the guidance of the legendary director and star Lau Kar Leung. He is probably best known for his starring roles in the movies “Mad Monkey Kung Fu”, “Legendary Weapons of China”, “Disciples of the 36th Chamber”, and “My Young Auntie”.
By day, respected physician Yang Tianchun runs a clinic that treats the poor for free which he subsidises by charging the wealthy for their ailments. Unbeknownst to his patients, by night he is the masked hero, Iron Monkey, who robs the rich to give to the poor. Having robbed the local Governor, the order is given to arrest anyone with the slightest suspicion of having a connection to Iron Monkey.
Arriving in town from Foshan, the physician and martial artist Wong Kei-ying and his young son, Wong Fei-hung, fight with some street thugs who attempt to rob them. When the local soldiers witness Wong Kei-ying’s exceptional fighting skills, they suspect he is the Iron Monkey, and arrest him and his son. They are taken to face the Governor, but the real Iron Monkey disrupts the proceedings. Wong Kei-ying tries to capture Iron Monkey to secure his and his son’s freedom, but Iron Monkey manages to escape. Impressed by Wong Kei-ying’s skill, the Governor holds Wong Fei-hung hostage to force Wong Kei-ying to help him capture Iron Monkey within seven days.
In the meantime, a Shaolin traitor named Hin-hung arrives in town with his followers to take over as the new governor. Iron Monkey and Wong Kei-ying run into Hin-hung and his disciples and are severely wounded by him. Retreating back to the clinic, Wong is surprised to discover that Yang is actually Iron Monkey.
Yang and Wong must combine their considerable martial arts skills to defeat the evil Hin-hung, save the townsfolk, and restore the honour of the Shaolin Monastery!
In the early nineties, director and producer Tsui Hark had a string of hits at the Asian box office, many of which featured the hyperreal, wire-fu action choreography of Yuen Woo-ping. For “Iron Monkey”, Hark gave directing duties to Woo-ping himself, resulting in a movie packed with intricate and exotic fights.
The action kicks off with the Qing Dynasty Chinese “Robin Hood”, Iron Monkey traversing the rooftops to scope out the greedy and lecherous Governor Cheng’s residence. Anticipating a trap, Iron Monkey turns the tables on the local constables and four monks armed with “spade” weapons. Fighting the monks, Iron Monkey rebounds off hidden trampettes and performs feats of the sort of physics-defying acrobatics and balance that can only be achieved with wire fu. When the wires are not employed, Yu Rongguang as Iron Monkey demonstrates that he certainly has the physical skills to deliver some great Northern-style kung fu techniques. It is all performed with grace, style, speed, flexibility and accuracy, punctuated with aesthetically pleasing wushu postures. “Power powder” and the intuitive use of slow-motion filming only accentuate the skills of the onscreen fighters.
With the arrival of Donnie Yen as Wong Kei-ying on the scene, we know it won’t be long before the action kicks off again. Arriving in town he deals with a gang of bullies who tried to pick his pocket. Paying fan service to the previous incarnations of the character of Wong Fei-hung, Donnie uses an umbrella to beat and humiliate the bullies. Hitting various traditional kung fu stances throughout, you will have rarely seen an umbrella wielded so naturally; you’ll be convinced it’s an authentic and complete martial arts style all by itself!
At the Governor’s Residence, Iron Monkey disrupts proceedings using steel balls, spikes and smoke bombs to attack and confuse his opponents. Wong Kei-ying faces off against Iron Monkey on a rooftop, in a delightful high-kicking duel. Donnie Yen and Yu Rongguang do a great job of performing at each other’s level, so that their characters are always evenly matched.
Donnie Yen really gets his chance to shine in a night time encounter with a gang of masked assailants who try to kidnap a girl. Even though it is set at night, it is wonderfully shot and Donnie’s agility and “no shadow” kicking skills are absolutely sublime. I grinned from ear-to-ear the first time I saw Donnie beat out a tune on a bad guy with one leg, and it still makes me smile today.
13-year old Angie Tsang Sze-Man impresses in some brilliantly choreographed and entertaining martial arts demonstrations and fight scenes. As Wong Fei-hung, she mimics Donnie’s earlier use of an umbrella to fight off a gang of bullies, and later uses a long pole against the villainous monk’s henchmen. The scenes also include subtle nods to some of the techniques and postures used in the fighting in “Once Upon a Time in China“, which of course featured the mature Wong Fei-hung. Model Jean Wang as Miss Orchid also gets in on the action with her graceful and dance-like fighting moves.
The introduction of the treacherous monk and his two cohorts raises the fighting action to new heights. Yu Rongguang uses a metal Nine-Section Whip Chain to fight off the straight sword-wielding Lee Fai and the double broadswords of Hsiao Ho, whilst Donnie Yen occupies Yen Shi-kwan with his lightning kicking combinations.
The memorable finale takes place on top of some flaming poles as Iron Monkey and Wong Kei-ying fight side-by-side to defeat the evil Hin-hung.
Most of the three-plus hours of extra features are from the Hong Kong Legends Platinum DVD release. This is no bad thing and they include some insightful interviews with stars Donnie Yen, Yu Rongguang, Angie Tsang, Li Fai and producer Tsui Hark. Additionally there is a behind-the-scenes look at Yuen Woo-ping’s action choreography, a short featurette called “Shadow Boxing” featuring Alex Yip all about Hong Kong action choreography, footage of actresses Li Fai and Angie Tsang competing at the 2003 Wushu Championships in Hong Kong, and the original theatrical trailer.
I have owned this film on a ropey VHS tape from Malaysia, the Made in Hong Kong VHS, and subsequent Hong Kong Legends Platinum DVD. Believe it or not, I was initially reluctant to watch “Iron Monkey” when it was released all those years ago, as it looked like it was full of all that “flying around on wires nonsense”. How wrong was I! The story is amusing and engaging, the performances are all good, and the fight scenes are superb. Even the Ennio Morricone-influenced music score is good! Along with “Once Upon a Time in China”, “Iron Monkey” was the film that educated me that when wirework is used correctly, it can enhance the action and still represent the recognisable techniques of traditional and modern Chinese martial arts. Not only is Yuen Woo-ping’s fight choreography among some of his best work, but this is possibly one of the best-looking films he has directed. With much of the action taking place in a night-time setting, it is still well-lit and colourful.
Donnie Yen is appropriately dignified as Wong Kei-ying, Yu Rongguang is compassionate and heroic as Yang Tianchun/Iron Monkey, and James Wong is hilarious as Governor Cheng. Nearly stealing the show however is Angie Tsang Sze Man who has the perfect amount of charm and cheekiness in addition to her impressive martial arts skills. It’s a shame she never went on to make any more “Young Wong Fei-hung” episodes.
If I have a criticism of this movie it’s that there are a few fight scene parts where they really didn’t need to speed up the footage so much, and I know a few fans who really don’t like wirework have been put off from watching this film. Even so, this is an action-packed, entertaining and fun “Robin Hood” story to be enjoyed over a brisk 90-minute running time.
Just as with Eureka Entertainment‘s awesome high definition release of “Drunken Master”, this UK Blu-ray of “Iron Monkey” features a crisp print, with bold, vivid colours and excellent sound quality. For those who like to watch their martial arts movies on a big screen TV and the volume cranked up on the soundbar, this is unquestionably the version to own.
For the past twenty years, “Iron Monkey” has been one of the most watched movies in my collection, and now with the release of the Blu-ray I have a great excuse to keep re-watching it!
- The film’s domestic release was delayed due to producer Tsui Hark’s insistence on filming some additional comedic scenes after Yuen Woo-ping had finished the film. According to an interview with Tsui on the Iron Monkey DVD release, this delay may have had a negative effect on the film’s box office earnings.
- In October 2001 Iron Monkey was released in the United States by Miramax Films, “Presented by director Quentin Tarantino”. It earned just over $6 million in its opening weekend and more than $14 million overall, becoming the 11th highest-grossing foreign language film in the United States.
- Many fans were surprised to discover that the young boy character of Wong Fei-hung was actually played by a thirteen-year-old girl! Angie Tsang Sze-Man was a talented lion dancer and wushu athlete that Yuen Woo-ping thought would not only have the required martial arts skills, but also the perfect cheeky innocence for the character.
- As a member of Hong Kong’s national wushu team, actress Angie Tsang won a gold-medal in the women’s nangun (southern staff) event of the World Wushu Championships in 2005 in Hanoi, Vietnam. She was a bronze-medal winner in the same event in 2001 in Yerevan (Armenia) and a silver-medal winner in 1999 in Hong Kong.
- The famous finale above the flaming poles inspired a similar fighting style in the computer game “The Matrix: Path of Neo”, based on the film which was choreographed by Yuen Woo-ping.
Film Rating: 9/10
Iron Monkey is out on Blu-ray from 18th June 2018 courtesy of Eureka Classics and you can also order via Amazon. Meantime, what are your impressions on Iron Monkey and what’s your favourite fight or action scene? Let us know in the comments below; Like, share this with your friends and join in the conversation on Facebook. You can also follow us on Twitter and Instagram STAY TUNED for your chance to WIN a copy of Iron Monkey on Blu-ray very shortly…(Monkey on down to these reviews for more FU, kicks n’ flix!)