Miramax // 1993 // 86 Minutes // Rated PG-13
Reviewed by Judge David Johnson // September 15th, 2009
Unmask the legend.
Miramax is emptying its kung fu vault and slapping a Blu-ray paint job on their releases. How does this entry fare?
The Iron Monkey is a masked vigilante, fighting the corrupt local government and stealing money to give to the poor. Yes, it's very much a Hong Kong version of Robin Hood except with dudes flying around on wires, balancing precariously on wooden poles, and beating on each other with staffs.
Inserted into this controversy against their will, Wong Kei-Ying (Donnie Yen, Flashpoint), his son, and future Chinese folk hero Wong Fei-Hung find themselves pressured by the government to capture Iron Monkey...or else.
There may be lots of accolades and breathless review blurbs on this disc's packaging, but I was never hugely enamored with the film. I'll readily admit Yuen Wo-Ping's frantic chopsocky bonanza is fun to watch for a spell, but there is so much wire-fu overload going on, the action quickly overstays its welcome. Even the gigantic final set-piece with the aforementioned wooden poles, where the good guys square off against the big bad, while an inferno burns below them and everyone's flying around whacking at each other with more wooden poles, is so outrageous I felt completely detached from the action.
Again, what are the stakes here? (No pun intended.) I suppose it's my adversity towards wire-fu which has only intensified over the years, especially given the refocus on grounded, street fighting realism in recent martial arts films. That's more my bag. Apart from Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon, which had a strong story to support its wire-fu, I've got little love for the flying.
That bias aside, if you do enjoy this style of action, then you will be in heaven with Iron Monkey. There is a ridiculous amount of action in this movie and very little downtime. Said downtime is where the main story dwells, but it's little more than bad-guy-kidnaps-kid-and-forces-good-guy-to-do-his-bidding. The one interesting wrinkle is the inclusion of young Wong Fei-Hung, which should be a treat for anyone following the characters astounding film pedigree.
Despite my misgiving on the fisticuffs, I can't deny the skill-set of its actors. Donnie Yen is always awesome and excels in the few more down-to-earth fight sequences. His counterpart, Rongguang Yu (a guy I haven't heard about before or since) as the Iron Monkey, does well too, though his stuff is more wire-supported than Yen's.
Of the three Miramax kung-fu Blu-rays I've reviewed (The Legend of Drunken Master and Hero), Iron Monkey is my least favorite film, but the most superior-looking disc. The enhanced 1.85:1 widescreen transfer is clean, showing off a noticeable improvement in picture quality pumping out some nice color contrasts. There's a lot of eye candy and the high-def upgrade serves the film well. If you're a huge fan of the film, the transfer is worth considering a double-dip. In aural support is the DTS-HD 5.1 Master Audio. Strong and crisp, it keeps up heroically with all the on-screen mayhem. Extras are few, though: two old interviews with Quentin Tarantino and Donnie Yen.
Exhausting and just too out-there action-wise, Iron Monkey is still a solid Blu catalog release.
More like bronze monkey.
Review content copyright © 2009 David Johnson; Site layout and review format copyright © 1998 - 2013 HipClick Designs LLC
Scales of Justice
* 1.85:1 Non-Anamorphic (1080p)
* DTS HD 5.1 Master Audio (English)
* Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround (Chinese)
* Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround (Spanish)
* English (SDH)
Running Time: 86 Minutes
Release Year: 1993
MPAA Rating: Rated PG-13