Directed By: Woo-ping Yuen
Starring: Rongguang Yu, Donnie Yen. Jean Wang
Tag line: "Unmask The Legend"
Trivia: was ranked #99 in Empire magazines "The 100 Best Films Of World Cinema" in 2010
The modern take on the martial arts genre took America by storm in 2000 with Ang Lee’s critically acclaimed epic, Crouching Tiger Hidden Dragon, a film that revealed to western audiences just how tasteful, just how beautiful the genre could be. But before Crouching Tiger Hidden Dragon, there was Yuen Woo-Ping’s Iron Monkey, in which an equal amount of well-choreographed action was intertwined with a genuine sense of fun.
China, 1856. Corrupt government officials, supported by equally corrupt Shaolin monks, have been draining the peasants dry to line their own pockets. But the poor and destitute aren't without a hero; a masked martial arts master known only as Iron Monkey (Rongguang Yu) is determined to protect the down-trodden at all costs. Spending his nights stealing from the rich, a segment of society that includes the local provincial Governor, Cheng (James Wong), Iron Monkey then turns around and gives to the poor. To prevent widespread rebellion among the lower classes, Governor Cheng gets tough, and orders his men to round up a number of villagers, hoping one of them will be the elusive Iron Monkey. Among those taken in the raid is Wong-Kei Ying (Donnie Yen), a stranger who only just arrived in the village with his young son Wong-Fei Hung (Sze-Man Tsang). Wong-Kei Ying, himself an expert in martial arts, is recruited by the Governor to destroy Iron Monkey. But will Ying, a man of honor, work with this ruthless regime to destroy a noble individual?
There’s plenty to get excited about in Iron Monkey, from the impressive set designs to the direction of Woo-Ping Yuen, who keeps the film's pace at a high level even when the fists aren’t flying. But Iron Monkey lives or dies by its awesome fight sequences, each a wonderful demonstration of orchestrated excitement, matching in style and form the excellent battles found in Crouching Tiger Hidden Dragon. The first confrontation between Wong-Kei Ying and Iron Monkey, which occurs on the rooftops late one night, is as perfectly coordinated as it is perfectly thrilling.
With comedy and drama tossed into the mix, Iron Monkey is much like Crouching Tiger Hidden Dragon in that it's the complete package, offering viewers more than simple, mindless action. But with its electrifying battle scenes, Iron Monkey never tires of reminding us why we’re watching it in the first place, and on that level, it does not disappoint.