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Movie Review

Iron Monkey

MPAA Rating: PG-13-Rating (MPAA) for martial arts action/violence and brief sexuality

Reviewed by: Douglas Downs

Moviemaking Quality:

Primary Audience:
Teens Adults
1 hr. 25 min.
Year of Release:
USA Release:
October 12, 2001
Copyright, Miramax click photos to ENLARGE Copyright, Miramax
Relevant Issues
Jean Wang in “Iron Monkey”. Photo Copyright Miramax.
Featuring: Yu Rong Guang, Donnie Yen, Tsang Sze-Man, Jean Wang, James Wong
Director: Yuen Woo Ping
Producer: Tsui Hark, Raymond Chow, Wang Ying Cheong
Distributor: Miramax
Donnie Yen and Yen Yee Kwan in “Iron Monkey”. Photo Copyright Miramax.

There have been several films in Hong Kong portraying the life of Wong Fei-Hung. A few, of the over 200, are making their way West. “Iron Monkey” includes in its story Fei-Hung as a young man traveling with his father. Who is Wong Fei-Hung? Wong Fei-Hung was born in 1847 and passed away in 1924. He had the reputation of being a martial arts master, teacher, healer, and revolutionary. Fei-Hung, in real life, was a champion for the weak and defenseless. He learned medicine while working at his father’s, Wong Kay-Ying, famous medical clinic. He had ten sons and lost one of them in a violent shooting. Wong vowed not to teach martial arts to the other nine as a result. He is called a true hero of China not just because of his feats of courage, but because he helped others for their benefit. Jesus said “If anyone wants to be first, he must be the very last, and the servant of all” Mark 9:35

“Iron Monkey” is a martial-arts extravaganza. Miramax films is hoping to cash in on the $100 million Oscar winning hit “Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon.” I am sure the studio execs are very disappointed that they passed on “CT,HD.” They have raided the Hong Kong vaults and found another film choreographed by Yuen Wo-Ping (“Matrix,” “CT,HD”). No one can doubt the wide acceptance that Yuen has received from American audiences. This earlier film, from 1993, will not disappoint fans of the genre. Miramax souped up the track and edited it for a fresh new look. We get to see the style of action and stunts that Asian fans have been enjoying for almost a decade. It is rumored that the Hong Kong audience found “CT,HD” boring in comparison to other action films. I can see why. Personally, I liked “CT,HD” better, but “Iron Monkey” has its own flavor of action.

If you like films with lots of action, stunts, some light humor, and a thin plot—this is the movie for you. It is an incredible display of Shaolin style kung fu. “Iron Monkey” is the story of a benevolent doctor named Yang (Yu Rong-guang). He treats the poor for free; our Robin Hood-style hero. Yang has become the people’s champion against the corruption of the government officials. It is China in 1858 and we get a glimpse at the oppression coming from the Ching Dynasty. Yang’s sidekick in this cause is known as Miss Orchid (Jean Wang). The two of them are masters in fighting and use their skills to “rob from the rich and give to the poor”. Governor Cheng (James Wong) is desperate to capture the Iron Monkey. He enlists the help of Chief Fox (Yuen Shun-yee) who’s forces are no match for our hero.

The Governor orders that anyone that has anything do with monkeys be brought in. This request provides part of the light humor in the film. Two innocent by-standers get caught in the pursuit. Wong Kei-ying (Donnie Yen) and his 12-year old son Wong Fei-hong are falsely charged with being involved with the Iron Monkey. The father is called upon to help capture the villain and his son is held as hostage. This part of the story gives Wong Fei-hong fans a prequel look into the life of their national hero. The story unfolds with an incredible series of high-wire fight scenes that just drip with suspense. I thought the stunts in “The Musketeer” were pretty impressive until I saw this film.

The film has its share of objectionable material. The violence is bloody at times by American standards. It is typical Kung fu fighting (where several get hurt, but very few die). There is an ongoing discussion of a brothel and an attempted rape. This is not a film for younger audiences. There is a lot of inside discussion on Kung-fu moves and all of their names (probably boring to most Westerners). I do recommend the film to all the action fans out there—just please leave the kids at home.

Viewer Comments
Positive—“Iron Monkey” was a very overlooked movie. Compared to “Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon,” this was about twice as good and got about 20 times less hype. It’s a really good movie, if you are a fan of action or martial arts movies. If you can get past the subtitles and a few minor objectional elements you should enjoy this movie a lot. Action packed, creative and a lot of fun.
My Ratings: [Better than Average / 3]
Toby Flournoy, age 16
Positive—Awesome movie. American action movies pale greatly in comparison.
My Ratings: [Average / 5]
James, age 22
Movie Critics
…frequent battles and graphic violence…
Preview Family Movie and TV Review
…Humanistic world view with New Age pagan mystical implications…
Dr. Ted Baehr, Movieguide
…non-explicit, sexually related comments are made…
…a more readily understandable level, eliminating much of the extraneous, loopy mysticism that has impaired much of Hark’s Film Workshop work…
Marc Savlov, The Austin Chronicle