`Iron's' pace is nonstop

Review: `Crouching Tiger' fans will be floored by this martial arts film's ceaseless action.

October 12, 2001|By Chris Kaltenbach | Chris Kaltenbach,SUN MOVIE CRITIC

Meld Superman with Robin Hood and change the setting from Metropolis to Shanghai, and you've got Iron Monkey, a turbocharged martial-arts romp.

The exploits (mostly imagined) of Wong Fei-Hong, a real-life marital artist, have been a staple of Cantonese cinema for more than 50 years. This film seeks to deepen the legend by imagining how he became a principled practitioner of the martial arts, while introducing a new character - the Iron Monkey, a nearly invincible masked warrior protecting the downtrodden from corrupt politicians.

Set in the mid-19th century in eastern China, Iron Monkey opens with its namesake's reputation already firmly established. An especially nasty imperial governor has drained the land and its people of nearly everything, and he's determined to protect what he's hoarded from the Iron Monkey (Yu Rong-Guang).

Determined to discover his adversary's identity, the governor orders the arrest of every possible suspect. His hapless minions round up just about everyone in sight; one man gets picked up because he eats like a monkey. Of course, they don't bring in their prey; in reality, the people's hero is a doctor of great renown. But they arrest a visiting warrior from Canton, Wong Kei-Yang (Donnie Yen), and his 10-year-old son - the young Wong Fei-Hong.

The governor quickly realizes he's stumbled onto the one man who might be able to best his adversary in battle. To earn his son's release, Wong Kei-Yang will need to capture or kill the Iron Monkey.

And oh, what glorious battles ensue. Legs spin, hands slice, wood shatters, men fly; the action is constant and beautiful.

Yuen Wo Peng, who's been directing films in Hong Kong for nearly three decades, has become a hot property, thanks to his choreography of the fight scenes in Crouching Tiger , Hidden Dragon and The Matrix. Some martial arts purists object to his techniques, since they include trick staging and strings supporting the actors. But the results are hard to argue with. Iron Monkey's final battle, done atop wooden poles as a building burns down around the combatants, defies easy adjectives.

Originally released in 1993, Iron Monkey (which has already spawned a sequel) has been picked up by Miramax, clearly trusting that American audiences are ready to jump on the martial-arts bandwagon. Viewers impressed by the fairly standard martial-arts action of Crouching Tiger will really be wowed after seeing this film.

Iron Monkey

Starring Yu Rong Guang, Donnie Yen

Directed by Yuen Wo Ping

Released by Miramax

Rated PG-13 (violence, sex)

Running time 89 minutes

Sun score *** 1/2

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