The truth is, I'm a sucker for martial arts films. That's just the way it is. The aesthetic qualities of the genre please me. There's something completely irresistible about the swirling blend of dance and intricately choreographed action that goes into the fight scenes (like a ballet, but with blood and people getting thrown into walls and out of windows and such). In addition, there's something strange deep down inside the darker recesses of my soul that makes me really like movies with subtitles. Go figure. Must be some psychological abnormality . . . And then there's the fact that, as a male of the species, it's not anywhere within my power of will, realm of understanding or plane of reality to be able to resist an action movie of any kind, martial arts flicks very much included.
Accordingly, it was with much rejoicing that I hailed the release of Iron Monkey, however silly the title may sound.
Doubtless the phrase "iron monkey" comes across as a lot cooler in the original Chinese, though I never paid enough attention to the speech to be able to tell - my mind was much too occupied with other, more important things, such as the laying down of serious kung fu smack by all parties concerned which was continually occurring on the screen.
The film's plot follows the nearly archetypal model of the good-guy bandit - in this case, a Robin Hood-esque doctor (Yu Ruang-Guang) who dons his ninja garments as soon as the sun sets, takes upon himself the alias "Iron Monkey", and goes about robbing the rich to feed the poor. Eventually he meets up with a monk (Donnie Yen) and his son (Tsang Sze-Man), and together they fight to rid the government of corruption, aided by the Iron Monkey's true love (Jean Wang), a standard fare kung fu babe who could very probably beat me several feet into solid concrete with just one hand. As humans, I don't think we'll ever get bored with this story model. However, despite director Woo-ping Yuen's best efforts - and they are commendable efforts - the plot still comes across as somewhat tired and considerably the worse for wear, leaving many issues still unresolved by the time the end rolls around (a sin tolerated in tragedies, but entirely unacceptable in something with a happy ending).
The plot, though, is really the only disappointing element of the movie; everything else is pretty much excellent: fight scene choreography (one entire fight takes place balanced on the tops of burning poles), general cinematography, sets and scenery, the works. Of course, the slight improbabilities common to the genre make their appearances throughout (people flying, for example), but are taken as given and, rather than detracting from the art and entertainment value of the film, in fact add a distinctly Eastern feeling that would otherwise be missing (subtitles from Mandarin Chinese notwithstanding).
So. Good fun on all points. As per category (that is, somewhat comic action), Iron Monkey lacks the epic, sweeping drama and genuine artistry of, say, Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon, but the technical mastery is there, and the fact that just about everything is hilariously over-done, even to the point of being excessive, makes up for anything that may be lacking in other areas. It's not a movie for everybody, granted, but I'd fork out another five dollars to see it again, if only to watch little Tsang Sze-Man get his hardcore mad-crazy martial arts mack on, doling our serious ass-kicking right and left and doing the coolest things with an umbrella on the silver screen since Mary Poppins.