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Iron Monkey (Woo-Ping Yuen) 2001
Originally released in Hong Kong in 1993, Iron Monkey is the first Hong Kong action flick to come out in the US in wide release after the huge domestic financial and critical success of Crouching Tiger Hidden Dragon. The film seems perfect for those that found the dialogue scenes in CTHD boring. Instead of fifteen minutes of exposition beforehand, the film's first scene exhibits leaping across rooftops. Instead of that film's repressed romances, Iron Monkey offers a gob of melodrama, slapstick comedy, cooking montages, and demonstrations of holistic medicine. The film is very similar to Peking Opera Blues (Tsui Hark, that film's director co-wrote and produced here) in that there are wild shifts of tone from scene to scene. It's difficult to imagine one complaining of boredom in a film that barely allows us a chance to catch our breath.
The film was directed by Woo-Ping Yuen, fight choreographer for CTHD and The Matrix. The film doesn't really surpass either of those films during its fight scenes. It pales especially when compared to CTHD in which Peter Pau's camera seemed to have no bounds. The editing in CTHD was also much sharper than this film's. We rarely saw a swing actually connect there. This film's kung-fu is much more forceful and less balletic. Still, it's the sort of film that manages to create enough energy to allow you to overlook a lot of these flaws. It's a hyperactive videogame, and like a videogame, the screen seems to move at sixty frames per second. Everything's a bit faster than normal and makes a bit less sense. At one point the big bad boss even says to the heroes, "This is game over!" Still, you almost accept it. There's so much happening that you tend not to notice that there's little plot (it's basically a Chinese Robin Hood tale), or that there's little in the way of serious dramatic acting. I suppose, like a videogame, the film is best suited to younger teens. Luckily, there's little in the way of carnage for all the fighting that goes on, and the sexual content is innuendo at best. All in all, it's not shocking that the film manages to entertain. HK cinema is filled with many entertaining films of this type, so it's not surprising that the first one chosen for wide release after such a success would be quite capable of holding one's attention.