This is a Lunch.com exclusive REVIEW of the UNCUT Hong Kong Version.
Let me share a story to you. One of the reasons why I began reviewing Asian movies more than any other films from any other countries is because of the disrespect that most of them have suffered under U.S. distributors. “Infernal Affairs” suffered a very disrespectful treatment when it reached U.S. shores. Other films such as “The Promise”, “Shaolin Soccer”, “Azumi”, “Casshern” and “Tom Yum Goong” have been highly edited for U.S. audiences. Well, back in 2001, the winner of the Hong Kong film award came to the U.S. via Miramax in a highly edited version to capitalize on the success of "Croaching Tiger Hidden Dragon". Yuen Woo-Ping’s (Fearless) “Iron Monkey” (made in 1993) has been hailed as one of the best martial arts movies ever made, but you can’t really tell when you see the U.S. release; why? Because Miramax butchered the DVD.
Yes, this has been going on quite sometime now. Casual movie fans had no idea that Asian movies were being censored. After all the disrespect Asian cinema has suffered, some Hollywood fans have the audacity to claim that Asian directors cannot compete with the big shots of Hollywood. Whoever said that deserves a spider finger jab in the face. Thankfully, due to several petitions by REAL cinema fans, Asian cinema is now getting the respect it deserves and HK distributors are now able to bring the films in their original cut, the way they were meant to be seen. Yes, Hollywood distributors, thanks to multi-region DVD players, your hand was caught in the cookie jar.
But enough rant, let’s get to the review of the “IRON MONKEY” shall we?
Dr. Yang (Yu Rong-Guang) is a kindly physician who spends his days tending to the sickly, the poor and unfortunate. He is a doctor by day and at night prowls the rooftops of this ancient Chinese town in the guise of “Iron Monkey” who is the “Robin Hood” or “Zorro” if you prefer of this period. With the beautiful, ex-prostitute Orchid (Jean Wang) at his side who helps conceal his identity, Yang fights against the corruption of the Ching government. However, folk hero Wong Kei Ying (Donnie Yen, IP MAN) and his son Wong Fei-Hung (a character due to become a legend, remember Drunken Master?) stumbles onto some bad luck with the local authorities and the father finds himself hunting “Iron Monkey” to buy his son’s freedom. But things are getting more complicated as the authorities have summoned Hiu Ying (Yen Shi-Kwan), a high-ranking corrupt official who is also a disgraced Shaolin monk who is a master of the art of the deadly Buddha’s Palm. Now, Wong and Yang have to join forces to face the corrupt monks and stop Ying no matter the cost…
The film’s premise is actually very simple. I am stunned just how much detail is missing in the U.S. release. The Characterization has been rendered almost none-existent as characters were severely underdeveloped in the Miramax release. The fantastic Wong Fei-Hung soundtrack is missing and some details about Orchid and the young Fei-Hung were also missing. The political scene during this time was skipped as well as certain significant scenes that reflect the corruption in this period. Some fight scenes were also missing, but considering the hack jobs Miramax has done in the past, at least Quentin Tarantino managed to minimize the damage.
Ok, I’ll cut to the chase. Yuen Woo-Ping may not be the best storyteller but he is a damn excellent fight choreographer. But with Tsui Hark as producer, director Woo-Ping has crafted one of the best martial arts movies ever made. Sure there is some wire-fu, but here rather than the ‘wire’ seen as a “cheat”, it serves to enhance the great action. Here, the romance between Yang and Orchid is only hinted at, the relationship between the Wong family is much more fleshed out and the movie has an abundance of action sequences; each one more awesome than the one before. The action in “Iron Monkey” never feels redundant and climaxes in a very exciting pole fight as both Wong Kei-ying and Iron Monkey face off against the villain. It was quite inventive to stage a fight scene on poles while the combatants desperately try to maintain their balance with the scorching fire raging beneath their feet.
“Iron Monkey” is pretty straightforward when it comes to the delivery of its plot. It avoids the unnecessary convolutions and keeps things focused while injecting some silly moments that doesn’t distract the viewer from the central plot. The film has a sense of restraint that I appreciated that complemented the performances. Yu Rong-Guang and Donnie Yen are both likeable protagonists and the villain played by Yen Shi-Kwan is manic and bad enough. Tsang Tze-Man makes for a convincing Wong Fei-Hung and that is saying a lot since the supposed teenage actor is actually a female! Yep, surprising isn’t it? Jean Wang is very nice eye candy and I just can’t help looking at her beautiful face. (Yup, small surprise)
“Iron Monkey” is the type of movie that focuses on action, and many considers it Yuen Woo-Ping’s greatest film. Many U.S. fans would remember him for his work in “Kill Bill” (what…You thought Tarantino could’ve pulled off those fights scenes?) and “The Matrix” and this is THE FILM that helped him break into the Western market. It is a fine example of what a period martial arts movie should be; whether or not you agree it is Yuen Woo-Ping’s best film, the original uncut Asian version is one helluva ride!!