(Siu Nin Wong Fei Hung Ji: Tit Ma Lau)
With Iron Monkey, Yuen Wo Ping is working under the producership of the legendary Tsui Hark, director of classic films like Zu: Warriors from the Magic Mountain (1983) and Green Snake (1993). Unlike Tsui Harks work, Yuen Wo Pings films are generally less fantastical. Opponents still conduct impossible mid-air manoeuvres, however his films are earthbound in the sense that he keeps them as purely martial arts combat films rather than incorporates elements such as magic, Eastern religion and combat with demons or outrightly absurdist moves such as characters dancing on swords, uprooting and throwing trees and so forth that we had in a substantial number of other Wu Xia films of the period.
Iron Monkey is essentially a Wu Xia variation on Robin Hood by way of a Western masked hero such as Batman, Zorro or The Lone Ranger. In terms of plot, the film is fairly simplistic in the character divides it sketches the good wisely doctor, the comically evil and corrupt figures of the governor and royal minister where the major story arc is the complication that ensues when straight arrow Donnie Yen ends up befriended by Yu Rong Guang not realising that he is the masked figure he has sworn to apprehend.
The pleasure of the film all comes in the martial combat sequences that Yuen Wo Ping stages. Scenes with Donnie Yen and son Tsang Sze Man despatching a host of opponents with an umbrella; the initial fight between Yu Rong Guan and Donnie Yen on a rooftop, full of lightning fast moves. There is a glorious piece early in the show with Yu Rong Guang and Jean Wang jumping off the walls, flipping through the air, kicking stools into place and so on in order to catch pieces of falling paper, which shows exactly what kind of poetry the genre can conduct when it gets the chance. The standout set-piece of the film is the climactic showcapper with Yu Rong Guan and Donnie Yen fighting Yen Yee Kwan around a series of burning pillars with they balanced atop posts, atop one another, teetering as posts are in mid collapse and so on, which proves so entertaining in the constant cleverness of its dexterity that it is almost exhausting. Yuen Wo Ping peppers the rest of the film with the broad, goofy slapstick sequences that Hong Kong cinema seems to love but beyond that there is never too much more to Iron Monkey. Which is probably why I enjoyed his The Tai Chi Master and its epic-sized fight scenes the better of the two. Not that Iron Monkey is anything less than highly enjoyable for exactly what it offers.
Donnie Yen but not Yuen Wo Ping returned for the sequel Iron Monkey 2 (1996) where this time he inherited the role of Iron Monkey.