Iron Monkey (1993 HK/2001 U.S.)

ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Jennifer Upton is an American (non-werewolf) writer/editor in London. She currently works as a ghostwriter of personal memoirs for Story Terrace London and writes for several blogs on topics as diverse as film history, punk rock, women’s issues, and international politics. For links to her work, please visit https://www.jennuptonwriter.com or send her a Tweet @Jennxldn

I saw Iron Monkey for the first time during its 2001 U.S. release.

Settling into my seat, I knew relatively nothing about it other than it was considered a modern classic Kung Fu film. When I realized it was about young Wong Fei Hung it was like opening a surprise gift. Being a big fan of Once Upon a Time in China with Jet Li and being familiar with the long, rich cinematic history of the character in HK movies made Iron Monkey even more enjoyable than it would have been otherwise.

I patiently waited for the Wong Fei Hung theme music to kick in. When it never did, I realized it was because the film had been re-scored for the American release. The cinematic equivalent of watching a James Bond film without the classic theme. That being said, the music in this version was actually pretty good when compared with some of the criminal hack jobs Miramax perpetrated on to other Asian films in the ‘90s. Quentin Tarantino’s name in the credits no doubt had something to do with the overall respect shown here. That it was given a wide release in North America with subtitles is a glorious thing.

Iron Monkey tells the story of a Dr. (Yu Rong Guang) who dons a mask during his off-time to steal riches from corrupt village officials and give the money to the poor. When a pre-teen Wong Fei Hung (played in the grand Cantonese tradition by a female – Angie Tsang) and his legendary father Wong Kai-Ying (Donnie Yen) come to town, it makes for one of the best Kung Fu movies I’ve ever seen. Each fight is better than the last and the final battle, which takes place mostly on top of wooden poles over a burning fire is truly a thing of beauty. Younger audiences will be familiar with Donnie’s amazing fighting techniques from Rogue One: A Star Wars Story. The equally talented Yen Shi-Kwan (Iron Robe Yim from OUATIC) plays the main baddie.

Every time I read a discussion centered on this film, everyone always goes on and on about Yuen Woo-Ping. He is indeed a brilliant artist. However, I feel just as much of the credit for the success of Iron Monkey should go to Producer/Writer Tsui Hark. I have viewed other films from roughly the same time period of both men and have to say that I have consistently enjoyed Tsui Hark’s body of work more than Yuen Woo-Ping’s. Iron Monkey is a great collaboration and should be viewed by all who are even the slightest bit curious about Kung Fu films.

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