Do you like that Mountain Dew commercial with the kung-fu, but wish it were 90 minutes long? Do you love to watch martial arts movies, but get tired of all those distractions, such as characters and plot? Did you like Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon, but wish it weren’t quite so intelligent and well-made? If you answered yes to any of those questions, Iron Monkey is the movie you’ve been waiting for. If you answered no, well, Cork Romano is showing right next door.
Iron Monkey is the brainchild of Yuen Woo-Oubgm best known in the States for choreographing the fight scenes in Tha Matrix and Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon. The film was released in Hong Kong back in 1993, and it’s finally being brought to America in the Crouching Tiger wake, which has so far brought us the cinematic miscarriages Kiss of the Dragon and The Musketeer. Monkey is a step or two above those films, but that’s not necessarily saying a lot.
The story is embarrassingly simplistic, a straightforward variation on The Scarlet Pimpernel, and the characters are little more than nimble cardboard cutouts, but let’s face it: this is not the type of movie that one goes to for the subtle insight into the human condition. What really matters is the action, and that is the one aspect at which Iron Monkey shines. Actors move with speed and balance that bends [and sometimes shatters] the laws of physics.
Some of the fights play better than others: several that involve an umbrella are especially impressive, reminiscent of Charlie Chaplin, if Charlie Chaplin had made martial arts films. Several scenes actually go a bi9t too far, though. It’s one thing to lasso someone with a chain, and another to do it with a ten-foot-long shirtsleeve. Yuen’s penchant for speeding up the film also works better some times than others. More often than not, it comes across as the Keystone Kops beating the crap out of each other.
The film’s biggest weakness is in its stars, who uniformly lack the screen presence that made Jet Li, Chow Yun Fat, and Jackie Chan successful in the U.S. Donnie Yen and Yu Rongguang are effective in the fight scenes, but when the time comes to stop and talk, they have all the star power of Michael Dudikoff and Jan-Michael Vincent [for those of you unfamiliar with early-90s, straight-to-video action movies; that’s not very good].
The actor who comes across best is Tsang Sze-Man, a girl playing the role of a young boy. She is at least as capable in the fights as her adult counterparts, and she has a natural ease onscreen that they tend to lack.
As to whether or not this movie is worth going to see, it really comes down to if you like this type of movie or not. If you do, you probably won’t be disappointed. If you don’t…, there’s always Corky Romano.