This post I am going to look at an interesting film that is not only hugely enjoyable in its own right, but links to some other films I have spoken about, plus a little bit of controversy.
“Iron Monkey” is a prequel of sorts to the “Once Upon A Time In China” series, that I have already spoken glowingly about previously. The Iron Monkey in question is a Robin Hood type character, fighting against corrupt officialdom, repatriating funds back to the poor. To most his identity is secret, but we soon find out that he is actually Dr Yang (Rong Guang Yu), a popular physician, assisted by Miss Orchid (Jean Wang). Into town comes Wong Kei-ying (Donnie Yen) and his young son, Wong Fei-hung, who are (to cut a long story short) somewhat forced to try and track down the Iron Monkey.
The action is frankly some of the best I have seen, which should not come as a surprise when you realise the film is directed by Woo-ping Yuen. However, there is more on display here than fancy fighting – the film has its share of very amusing comedy elements, and a visual flair I would not previously expected by such a film.
It is also seriously funny, with both humour interspersed in the action, along with a number of comic scenes.
There are some lovely quiet moments also. Two of my favourites were the lovely blue-toned flashback to the backstory of Miss Orchid which was able to be both touching and fulfilling; and the lovely scene were Father and Son are reunited – the son reaches out to hold his father’s hand, but the father just grasps his wrist. The young Wong Fei-hung looks up just for a second, and you see the disappointment in his face.
The film totally fits with the later Wong Fei-hung movies in the “Once Upon A Time In China” series, setting up little hints of the future, such as the Unbrella, Wong Fei-hungs fighting skills, plus his interest in medicine. But what elevates it is that it totally stands up as a film in its own right. Having some of that pre-knowledge helps of course, but is far from essential. Yen is especially good, obviously channelling the performance of Jet Li as the older Wong Fei-hung, showing how the actions and personality of the Father will impact the emotional character of the Son.
I do however have an issue or two with the film, mostly around its structure. The films is guilty of being a little episodic in nature, with the three main characters of Dr Yang, Wong Kei-ying and Wong Fei-hung all spending large amounts of film time off-screen Donnie Yen’s character goes missing for what feels like nearly 30 minutes at one stage. And in a film that is a spritley 89 minutes in total this is quite a disappointment.
I was told to get hold of the Hong Kong version, rather than the US Cut, which was released to cash in on the “Crouching Tiger” boom in the early 1990’s, and looking at the changes made, this can only be a good idea.
Now foreign films getting changed and recut for US audiences is nothing new, but to me some of these seem misguided at best, and to totally change dialogue and story points is a big no-no in my book.
However, this really is a super film – I watched it twice this week, so it gets the Things Fall Apart Highly Recommended tag of approval.