Iron Monkey: Platinum Edition
In the mid 90s traditional Hong Kong action movies were still an
underground and not exceptionally popular genre outside o fit snative
country, much like anime was at the time. With the recent mainstream
success of more westernised Hong Kong movies like Crouching Tiger Hidden
Dragon, the mainstream interest in asian cinema has increased
exponentially. I must confess I wasn't a huge fan of Crouching Tiger as
it muted and toned down a lot of what makes traditional Hong Kong
martial arts movies great to make it more "hollywood" and therefore more
accessible. It has made deserving stars of alot of previously unnoticed
acting talent, but one mustn't think that Crouching Tiger is the be all
end all martial arts movie.
Iron Monkey was made in 1993, as a prequel of sorts to the Once Upon A
Time In China series that Jet Li made popular. It's place in martial
arts movie history should not be undervalued as its an absoloutely
fantastic piece of true martial arts cinema. It treads the same kind off
familiar territory to many other movies of the genre, but has a
wonderful combination of the traditional old school era kung fu movies
of the 70s made famous by Jackie Chan and Bruce Lee, and also combines
this with the wire work and ballet like choreography of the more recent
epics, like Hero and Crouching Tiger.
Iron Monkey tells the tale of a Robin Hood type shaolin monk. He steals
from the corrupt rich local govenrment and gives to the poor flood and
plague ravaged people of the town. The simple morality play changes when
a travelling hebalist/monk comes to town and his son is kidnapped and
jailed until the new mysterious and powerful monk brings the Iron Monkey
to justice. This is complicated further when rival shaolin monks are
called in to put an end to Iron Monkey's antics.
Is this plot corny? Yes. Does it offer anything new to the genre? No.
What Iron Monkey does do is give you an incredible ride that easily
ranks in the highest echelons of martial arts cinema. The simple
morality plots of a lot of asian cinema don't need confusing plot
twists and incredible story revelations to be entertaining. The set
piece fights and battles in this movie are up there with the best. The
story carries along and always keeps you entertained but kung fu cinema
is about kung fu, and this delivers in spades.
This is mainly due to the increidbly skilled cast of martial artists in
the cast. Yu Rong Kwong plays the titular Iron Monkey with deft skill,
he's like a combination of Chow Yun Fat and Jet Li, and his perofrmance
is very entertaining. Donnie Yen (most recently in Hero) plays second
lead as Wong Kei-Ying; he's made for these roles of the stronger more
intense character and his fight scenes in Iron Monkey are up there with
the best (if not the best) he's ever done. Special note must go to the
females of Iron Monkey. Jean Wang plays a great companion for Yu Rong
Kwong as Miss Orchid. Her performance is very convincing as his partner
in kung fu, and as a herbalist.
Special note must go to Sze-Man Tsang, the girl (yes, a girl) who plays
a young Wong Fei-Hung (Jet Li's character in the Once Upon aTime in
China series). Her martial arts skill is very impressive, and some of
the rough treatment he/she is on the recieving end of certainly made me
wince a few times. This was Sze-Man Tsang only movie role, and although
it's a shame she hasn't performed since, it good to see her talents
aren't by any means going to waste (see Extras section).
All the things you either love or hate about kung fu movies are all
present and correct in Iron Monkey. Over acting villains, familiar sound
effects, dust clouds on every point of contact in fights, scenerey
breaking in every shot, slapstick humour, and super human abilities. You
either love this stuff or hate it, and Iron Monkey isn't going to change
anyone's opinion of the genre. I do believe though that previously
dismissive viewers could enjoy this a lot more than they would
have thought when it was released, thanks to the genres more
widespread acceptance in recent times.
This is the martial arts movie in its most pure form, there isn't any
pandoring to needless character development or forced love interest, or
romantic tragedy to slow up the pace or try add faux complexity to the
story. Its a simple morality play with absoloutely scintillating fight
scenes that are worth admission price alone. The great performances by
the cast are beautifully complemented by the amazing fight choreography
by Woo-ping Yuen.
Video: Honk Kong legends have lovingly transferred the 16:9
transfer of Iron Monkey very well. Aside from some light grain (more
prominent in the night scenes) the picture is for the most part very
sharp. The lavish, traditional interiors of the sets are incredibly
detailled and are bursting with colour.
The quick action sequences hold up just as well and never exhibit
compression problems or anything else untoward. The close up shots of
the actor's faces are also beautifully rendered. Its not often a film
strikes as being a real feast for the eyes, but this is right up there
with the best kung fu DVD releases. Well done Hong Kong Legends.
Audio: A wealth of audio streams are present; two 5.1 Dolby
Digital tracks (Cantonese and English) as well as a 6.1 DTS track in
Cantonese. The tracks have had a lot of work done to them to make them
work in 5.1 but they are all betrayed by the obviously stereo source
material. The soudscape is very front loaded, and even the more obvious
ambient effects have little presence in the rears. They have managed to
get quite a bit of LFE out of the tracks though (especially the DTS one)
and some of the more brutal punches and kicks have a very appropriately
sound effect to accompany the action. The sound is all very clear and
defined, with no muddiness or lack of fidelity.
Of the three tracks the DTS 6.1 fares the strongest with the usual more
dynamically rounded range, next comes the Cantonese Dolby Digital 5.1
which is slightly less pronounced than the DTS track. The DD5.1 English
track fares the worst, simply for the fact of it being a very obvious
dub, which proves too distracting to make the film enjoyable.
Special Features: Hong Kong Legends have presented quite the
wealth of extras for this Platinum Edition release. The commentary on
Disc 1 consists of Bey Logan and Donnie Yen having a very informal
banter for the duration of the movie. The commentary isn't exceptionally
informative about the movie, but is entertaining as they cover many
elements of the Hong Kong film industry and although they go off on many
different tangents, they do remain very interesting. The existing
friendhsip between Logan and Yen is prominent throughout, which makes
for some great back and forth between them. Logan occassionally talks
over Yen in excitement, but it dosen't get too out of control.
They cover alot of ground in the commentary and although I wouldn't call
it a"definitive Iron Monkey commentary" about its production and such, I
would definitely call it one of the more entertaining commentaries
around. Theres also an option to watch some of the commentary sequences
with the film footage on the left of the screen and Bey Logan and Donnie
Yen on the right side being filmed whilst doing their commentary.It
dosen't add a lot, but its does show Logan's passion for Hong Kong
cinema, the end portion of this is must see for comedy value alone.
Disc 2 is the home of the bulk of the extras with four main sections on
Interview Gallery: Four very interesting interviews with members
of the cast and Tsui Hark, Iron Monkey's writer, and director of the
Once Upon ATimeIn China series. Tsui Hark puts the story of Iron Monkey
into perspective with the Once Upon A Time In china series. He goes into
some great details about the production and his general feelings on
movie making. A special note must go to the Sze-Man sang's interview.
She provides a very entertaining insight to the experiences she had on
the set as a child. The interviews all have their strong points and are
all worth watching. The run time for each one is between 18 and 25
minutes and have all been conducted recently by HongKong Legends for
this DVD release.
Promotional Archive: The usual trailers and Tv spots are here, as
well as an animated Production
Photo Gallery: These are bread and butter extras that are
welcome, but not incredibly entertaining.
Featurettes: Why these are in their own section when they all
could have sat quite well in the interviews section, or had the other
interviews in this section is a bit of a mystery to me. An interesting
interview with Donnie Yen goes into detail about his thoughts on the
movie industry, martial arts and asian culture. He has some very
interesting opinions and he comes across as a rather colourful and
The second it an interview with Yuen Cheung-yan an elder statesmen of
the stunts in kung fu movies who gives a lot of insight into the
production side of the genre. Alex Yipp features in the third feature,
showing some stunt work in his training gym and how fights sequences
break down and are shot. I found this a bit of a missed opportunity as
there isn't a voice over to accompany the action. Its still a welcome
The fourth feature is one of the best on the disc as it is footage of
Sze-Man Tsang and Fai Li from Iron Monkey in actual martial arts
competitions from the 2003 Wu Shu Championships in Macau. Its great to
see them in competing in their martial arts and really shows
theirdedication to them. An excellent extra indeed.
Information Library: Contains the usual filmographies of the main
people involved in the prodction and the some other textual information
regarding Iron Monkey's production.
This rounds out a very impressive disc of extras that are as informative
as they are entertaining. A very good example of how to do a great array
of extras without repeating information too often.
Final Say: This is right up there with the best Hong Kong kung fu
action movies of all time. Amazing stunts and fights and a very
entertaining story. It pulls no punches in being a true kung fu movie
and won't change your opinion if you aren't a fan of the genre. If your
a fan of the genre this is a must see DVD and if you're a fan of Tsui
Hark's or Donnie Yen's work this is definitely must own. An impressive
range of extras coupled with a brilliant transfer and great audio make
this a wonderful DVD release of a very good kung fu movie.