Judge David Johnson offers this fun fact: Did you know that St. Augustine was called "The Iron-Fisted Monk" by his friends because of his superb "Rock, Paper, Scissors" skills?
Kung-fu for the pleasantly plump.
Despite the clear lack of monks with iron fists, director and star Sammo Hung (Martial Law) has crafted a true "envelope-pushing" (as the disc jacket proclaims) piece of kung-fu chop-socky. But not the way you'd think.
Facts of the Case
Husker (Hung) is a happy-go-lucky chubby kid who enjoys hanging around with bad-ass Shaolin monks. When he's not busy working for his uncle, making noodles in his store, he enjoys some fun times in the old temple, fine-tuning his martial artistry.
This pleasant life is thrown into a tailspin when a group of malicious Manchus beat the Country Crock out of him and his uncle. Fortunately, Husker's generous girth allows to him to emerge from the brouhaha relatively unscathed. Unfortunately, his uncle died.
Infused with all kinds of vengeance-wanting rancor, Husker packs up and searches for the ideal opportunity to smoke him some antagonists. His travels lead him to a small town overrun by corrupt Manchus, lorded over by a creepy-ass official (Hark-on Fung) who doesn't hesitate to rape or kill.
In fact, we witness this dirtbag rape and kill a village girl, in quite harrowing detail, much to the glee of his cronies. This establishes a fierce animosity between the girl's family and the Manchu thugs, one that plays out with violent effect one day on the streets.
Following the carnage, Husker joins forces with the legendary Shaolin monk Brother Tak (Sing Chen), and the two embark on a no-holds-barred, eyeball-gouging, back-flipping rampage of kung fu and death.
A lackadaisical start gives way to a relentless hand-to-hand spectacle of zaniness in this film, Hung's directorial debut (he would go on to direct 38 other movies, and star in a whopping 109!)
From the outset I wasn't terribly engaged. The chubby Hung, with his almost feminine-soft features, bounces around a bit and throws some punches with his Shaolin buddies, then he gets beaten up a bit by some bullies, and his uncle gets wasted. Yawn.
And then it happened…
The rape scene.
Now I've watched plenty of kung-fu films in my life, and it's rare for there to be nudity, much less what played out in The Iron-Fisted Monk. I was not prepared for a prolonged, graphic bout of sexual assault perpetrated by a guy whose English words didn't match his mouth. Look, we're talking nudity, graphic movement, and screaming.
Well, Mr. Hung it worked. You jarred me awake, and now all I wanted to see was someone beat the piss out of these jerk Manchus.
It wasn't long before my wish was granted. Husker and the brother of the raped girl seek out Brother Tak, and together they're trained, and develop a friendship while goofy music plays in the background.
This was the other startling element about the movie, the juxtaposition of the extreme behavior with a predominantly light-hearted tone. Sammo Hung looks like a friggin' teddy bear, there's some slapstick (when Husker punches one of the bad guys, he spins around and around), and there's also the aforementioned score, which is a cross between soft core porn music and the Rainbow Brite theme. "But wait, didn't I just see a brutal rape?" you might ask. "You sure did," The Iron-Fisted Monk replies, "and here's some crazy kung-fu violence as well!"
>From the big street fight right to very end—and I mean the very abrupt end—it's an all-out fight-o-rama. This is where the movie is the strongest, when Husker and Brother Tak unleash Fist #1 and Fist #2 on the bad guys.
There are plenty of bad guys on whom to unleash them, by the way. These action movies have a whole totem pole of villains, from the "boss" to the "enforcer" to the "common thug." This movie has about six assorted "boss" bad guys. It's like the final stage in the old Sega Genesis game Streets of Rage.
Hey man, the audience wins, because death or graphic eye-ripping-out awaits these suckers!
Fox delivers another tight kung-fu disc. While other studios slack off on delivering sound technical transfers of these films, Fox goes the extra flying jump kick. A 2.35:1 widescreen presentation is surprisingly crisp, just stumbling in a few sequences. Add to that four digital tracks—Dolby and DTS, English and Chinese—and it deserves kudos. Too bad the audio is so front-loaded—but the surrounds did get put to use occasionally. However, the lack of special features (except some trailers) make the village children sad.
The Iron-Fisted Monk certainly pushes the envelope for martial arts films, but in the wrong direction. The blitzkrieg of unadulterated kung-fu death during the final third of the film makes up for it, though. Oh, and despite some of the more light-hearted elements, keep the kids away.
On the count of "Misleading MPAA Description" in the second degree (R "for martial arts violence"—yeah, right), the accused is found guilty. On the count of "Wasting Your Time Utterly," the accused is found…not guilty.
Give us your feedback!
What's "fair"? Whether positive or negative, our reviews should be unbiased, informative, and critique the material on its own merits.
Scales of Justice
Review content copyright © 2004 David Johnson; Site design and review layout copyright © 2014 Verdict Partners LLC. All rights reserved.