As the fight choreographer for The Matrix and Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon, Hong Kong film director Yuen Woo-ping helped introduce U.S. moviegoers to the joys of wire-assisted flying kung-fu action. Now Miramax is bringing Americans more aerial combat by rereleasing one of Yuen's own films, 1993's Iron Monkey.
By "more aerial combat," I mean more aerial combat: Iron Monkey, a period actioner set in the mid-19th century, is Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon without the hidden-dragon part. That is, if CT,HD were a drama about the lives of ballet dancers, featuring brilliant ballet sequences, Iron Monkey would be the ballet. Here's the plot: Fight. Fight, fight. Fight-fight-fight--fight! Fight? FIGHT! Fight; fight. That's, like, the first reel.
So here's a black-masked warrior-thief, bounding over the rooftops: the Iron Monkey. Oh, did some other movie have a black-masked warrior-thief? Forget about it. Watch the Iron Monkey. How to say this? Look, I liked the Ang Lee movie a lot. I adore Chow Yun-Fat. Chow Yun-Fat may be the greatest movie actor on the planet. There is a 12-year-old girl in this movie who fights better than Chow Yun-Fat.
At least, I think she's 12 years old. She might be 11. Her name is Tsang Sze-Man, and she plays a young boy, Wong Fei-Hung, who will grow up to be a Cantonese patriot and folk hero, played by Jet Li in Once Upon a Time in China and Jackie Chan in Drunken Master. You don't need to know that to watch this movie. Here Wong is just a little boy, played by a little girl, who recites his stick-fighting lessons as he uses his stick-fighting skills to beat up corrupt Shaolin monks twice his size. Put that in your post-queer Shakespearian gender-performance theory and smoke it.
Anyway. The Iron Monkey goes rooftop-bounding by night, robbing from the rich and giving to the poor. The corrupt and dastardly Gov. Cheng (James Wong) plots to stop him. The governor forces Wong Kei-Ying (Donnie Yen), a traveling pharmacist and kung-fu expert--and the father of Wong Fei-Hung--to hunt the Iron Monkey. The Wongs are befriended by the big-hearted and remarkably agile Dr. Yang (Yu Rongguang) and his assistant, Miss Orchid (Jean Wang). And what do you suppose the mild-mannered Dr. Yang does when the sun goes down?
Iron Monkey does not depend on plot twists. It depends on the four heroes and an ever-expanding collection of buffoons, ruffians, and supervillains endlessly fighting, chasing, and fighting some more--with staffs, swords, furniture, teapots, clothing, an umbrella. To say nothing of the Dragon's Claw, the Shadow Kick, and the Buddha's Palm. Not that the whole movie is kung-fu fighting. There are breaks for kung-fu cooking, kung-fu table manners, and, in one acrobatic sequence, kung-fu paper-filing. It's all the same principle: Never, not for a moment, let anything hit the ground.