Iron Monkey, A Classic Reborn
Surprisingly, some of us are still reminding people that long before Donnie Yen was rocking Hollywood in Rogue One: A Star Wars Story and xXx: Return of Xander Cage, he was already a legend setting the bar high in his versatile period kung fu and modern action work. Often teamed with notable collaborators, these forged some truly great movies, especially with legendary filmmaker Yuen Woo-ping.
Going back quite a few years, these included early highlights like Drunken Tai Chi, Tiger Cage 1 & 2, In the Line of Duty 4 and even an awesome villainous turn in Once Upon a Time in China II, the latter under director Tsui Hark. It's without doubt a must-see era of Yen's work for any fan. Following these movies, and the long-standing popularity of the Wong Fei-hung character (popularised at that time by Jet Li's portrayal in the latter franchise), a new story was developed around Wong Fei-hung's childhood, a kind of unofficial prequel, which became 1993's Iron Monkey.
Arriving on Blu-ray now for the first time, the story follows Wong Kei-ying (Yen), a physician, martial artist and father (to Wong Fei-hung) who is mistaken for a masked vigilante known as the Iron Monkey (Yu Rongguang, Swordsman III, The Enforcer), a Robin Hood style hero robbing wealthy local officials in order to provide medical treatment for the poor. Ultimately, these two men will team up to defeat a corrupt political regime hell-bent on stopping the elusive, almost mythical Iron Monkey.
Produced by Tsui Hark while directed (and action directed) by Yuen Woo-ping, Iron Monkey boasts incredible fight choreography (including one of the best finales you'll ever see), and yet it only did okay domestically in 1993. Still, it became a commercial success in the USA after its release by Miramax (in 2001) which rode the waves of success after Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon. Despite the many cuts and alterations Miramax became known for in their American-skewed kung fu output (making a release like this all the more crucial) the film was ultimately appreciated by international audiences.
In a great tribute to the original release, Eureka Classics present the film on UK Blu-ray for the very first time. It's worth noting that most of the extras are carried over from the Hong Kong Legends DVD, minus commentary. Overall, this version includes:
Limited edition O-card
1080p presentation from a new 2K restoration
Audio: Original Cantonese mono audio (also available in 5.1 presentation), isolated Music & Effects track
Interviews with Donnie Yen, Tsui Hark, Yu Rongguang, Li Fai and Angie Tsang
Iron Fist - a behind-the-scenes look at the action choreography of Iron Monkey
Shadow Boxing – a featurette on Hong Kong action choreography featuring Alex Yip
Footage of Li Fai and Angie Tsang competing at the 2003 Wu Shu Championships
Original theatrical trailer
Collector’s booklet featuring a new essay
If you're new to this and consider yourself a fan, this release is a no-brainer and now the best version of the film available. If you own the previous HKL release, the 2k restoration looks stunning and adds cinematic flair to an already beautiful action picture.
For genre fans, Iron Monkey is a highlight of 1990's kung fu cinema, perhaps under appreciated in some circles. Considering the combined talent and skillset of names like Tsui Hark, Yuen Woo-ping, Donnie Yen and Yu Rongguang (all under the same banner, crazy!), this should be enjoyed and appreciated as such... especially since this era and output of Hong Kong cinema is now a thing of the past.
So while we hope for a kind of film industry renaissance, fire up Iron Monkey and take it back to the days where the Donnie Yens, Jackie Chan’s and Jet Li’s of Hong Kong cinema reigned supreme.
Iron Monkey is out now from Eureka Entertainment