Cult Movie: Iron Monkey a kung-fu classic from Hong Kong master Woo-Ping Yuen

Woo-Ping Yuen’s masterful Iron Monkey was first released in 1993
Ralph McLean

THESE days director Woo-Ping Yuen's masterful Iron Monkey is generally acclaimed as one of the finest martial arts movies of the early 21st century.

That's due to the fact that it was originally given a USA release in 2001 and, off the back of the resurgence in public interest in all things Asian that followed in the wake of Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon, swiftly made it into the top 10 box office movies of that time.

In actual fact the film was originally released to the Hong Kong and Chinese markets in 1993 and tanked spectacularly. While home audiences may have inexplicably turned their noses up at this stylish tale of courage, honour and sacrifice there is undoubtedly much to enjoy in this beautifully realised little martial arts morality tale.

Rongguang Yu is the Iron Monkey of the title. By day he is Dr Yang, a respected pillar of the local community and by night he dons his darkest robes to become a Robin Hood-style thief who robs from the corrupt local authorities to provide medical help for the impoverished villagers who are suffering in the aftermath of a terrible flood.

James Wong plays Governor Cheng, the chief authority figure charged with bringing the bold Iron Monkey in and to do just that he lines up his team fronted by a certain General Fox (Shun-Yee Yuen) to watch the rooftops of the city for this master thief. When Wong kei-ying (Rogue One's Donnie Yen), a local physician and fellow martial artist, is mistaken for the Iron Monkey, he and Dr Yang team up to defeat the corrupt political regime once and for all.

Good as the main actors are in this classically structured tale, it's the man behind the camera, Hong Kong film-maker Woo-Ping Yuen, who makes this is a truly special viewing experience.

One of the finest action-film director's of his era (his first two films were the game-changing classics Snake In The Eagle's Shadow and Drunken Master, two films that helped make Jackie Chan an international kung-fu icon) and quite possibly the greatest action and fight scene co-ordinator of all time (his credits range from Kung Fu Hustle to the aforementioned Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon), there is simply no-one like him in the world of Asian martial arts movies.

Here he grafts with a relatively low budget to craft a superior modern kung-fu fable that may lack the slickness of some of those more mainstream Hollywood efforts but still delivers enough thrills, spills and knowing little winks and nods to the tradition to make it a pure cult classic that rewards repeat viewings.

The fight scenes here are state-of-the-art examples of the genre at its most expansive and wildly inventive and they build in intensity relentlessly through the film's all too brief 90-minute running time.

Everything builds up to a stunning showdown set in a flaming inferno where a three-way fight on tall poles ensues.

Like the film itself it is wild, outrageous and simply unforgettable.

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