Iron Monkey is the story of an adolescent Wong Fei Hung (the Chinese folk hero, here played by Tsang Sze Man) who is held captive after his father, Wong Kei Ying (Donnie Yen), is arrested and accused of being an elusive Robinhood-style masked freedom fighter nicknamed Iron Monkey. Like ‘Monkey’, Ying practices a very unique style of Shaolin kung fu, however ‘Monkey’ uses his skills to protect the rights of the poor and oppressed people in the community, while Ying believes in doing things within the bounds of law at all times, mainly as an example to his son.
No one knows the identity of the real Iron Monkey, who is actually a self-effacing physician named Dr. Yang (Rongguang Yu) who, in one of many running comedic elements of the film, gives on-the-spot treatment to the royal guards that he pulverizes during his late-light missions, which include stealing government-hoarded gold, and liberating food and based human needs for people who can’t pay the exorbitantly inflated prices attached to them.
Iron Monkey also adds to the narrative lexicon of the legendary icon Wong Fei Hong, who was also seen in Jackie Chan’s Drunken Master 2 (a.k.a. The Legend of Drunken Master). In Iron Monkey we see Hong’s character in the vulnerable position of a child, although his own future exploits are easily foretold, with a father who’s a master of the martial arts, along with his being plunged into the middle of a fight against oppression.
With the help of his wife (Jean Wang), Dr. Yang/Monkey frees Wong Fei Hung and – after settling some minor philosophical differences about how to improve society – he teams up with Ying to put an end to the rule of the town’s greedy governor (played by the late James Wong), and to defeat former Shaolin monk-turned-tool-of-the-government Hiu Hing (Shi-Kwan Yen), who has mastered two deadly techniques – the “Buddha’s Palm” and “Flying Sleeves” – which make it nearly impossible for him to be defeated by a single person.
Skillful fight choreographer and film director Woo-ping Yuen (who handled fight sequences on The Matrix trilogy and Kill Bill films) brings the kinetic movie to a thrilling climax with all three expert warriors battling atop a treacherous pit of stakes.
While I would have liked to see the original uncut version of Iron Monkey on the disc as an option, so I could compare the two, the martial arts segments alone carry the film far beyond most martial arts action movies.
The 1080p/AVC-encoded transfer of the film does suffer from a slightly less vibrant presentation than more recent film releases – a problem shared by many older imports to the HD format – the upgrade is well-worth the purchase for hardcore fans. The fight scenes hum along at a breakneck pace, crisper than I’ve ever watched them, and with enough audio enhancements to make a real difference overall.
As amazing as Iron Monkey is, that doesn’t excuse the criminal lack of extras on this Blu-ray release. This edition makes use of the same Standard Definition material as the 2002 DVD release, featuring two interview segments – the first with Quentin Tarantino introducing the movie (which lasts about 9 minutes) and the second with the movie’s star Donnie Yen (about 6 minutes long). Iron Monkey’s status as a Cult Cinema Icon can not be ignored, however the bonus material simply didn’t do it justice.
Original Release Date: September 3, 1993
Blu-ray Release Date: September 15, 2009