Iron Monkey (1993)

Rating: B+

Dir: Yuen Wo-Ping
Starring: Donnie Yen, Yu Rong-Guang, Jean Wang, Shun Yee-Yuen

Nearly fell off my chair when Chris told me she’d seen a trailer for the theatrical release of this – and she nearly fell off hers, when I told her it was nine years old, and pulled out the laserdisc. Guess Miramax want their own Crouching Tiger? And while this is less emotionally effective, it’s enormous fun none the less. Yu plays the Robin Hood-like title character, robbing corrupt officials to aid the poor, assisted by former prostitute Miss Ho (no jokes, please). Into town comes Wong (Yen) and his son – actually played by a girl, Tsang Sze-Man. When the authorities hold the pair, Wong Sr. agrees to catch Iron Monkey in exchange for his freedom. Little does he know that the people he is lodging with are…well, I’m sure you can guess.

If the story, written by Tsui Hark, possesses few twists, the characters are well drawn – I especially liked Fox (Shun), the honourable yet ineffective palace security chief. But no-one will be going to see this for character or plot, and the fights are great, with the entire final reel steadily-escalating through a series of one-on-one, one-on-many and many-on-many fights. The final battle on top of burning poles probably goes a little too far for my tastes, but the jaw-dropping impact of it all can’t be denied. With the name of Wong’s son being Fei-Hung, and Tsui’s involvement, this is almost an unofficial prequel to Tsui’s Once Upon a Time in China series – it’s every bit as worthy and perhaps even more entertaining.