Review for Iron Monkey
I had thought that Drunken Master was a one off for Eureka Films; after all they’re not exactly the first port of call when you think of Martial Arts cinema. That’s despite Eureka releasing Dragon Inn some time back, a classic, pre-Bruce Lee martial arts flick. But then they announced this, Iron Monkey, and this August they’ll be releasing a Police Story/Police Story II twin-pack all making their UK Blu-ray debuts. I get the feeling that they at least have a foot in the door when it comes to Hong Kong Legends/Cine Asia’s back catalogue, specifically those classic movies that only got DVD releases in the UK. Is it too soon for me to make room on my shelf for Project A Blu-rays?
In a town where the poor and starving are being ground under by corrupt officials, there exists a champion who fights their cause and makes sure that injustices aren’t left unchallenged. Iron Monkey’s skills are formidable, and he regularly makes fools of the town’s guards and any vigilante who may think to profit from his capture. When he robs the town’s governor, he goes too far and the governor realises that if Iron Monkey’s thefts remain unchecked, he will lose face in the royal court. A royal inspector is due in the town soon, and Iron Monkey must be behind bars before then.
Soon anything even vaguely resembling a monkey is under arrest. That includes new visitors to the town, Wong Kei-Ying and his young son Wong Fei-Hung, when the father’s fearsome kung fu skills liken him to the thief. An appearance by the thief proves their innocence, but the governor decides to blackmail Kei-Ying into finding Iron Monkey, by holding his son hostage. The jail isn’t a healthy place though, Fei-Hung soon sickens, and the kindly town’s head guard takes him to Doctor Yang for treatment. But while Yang is a philanthropic doctor by day, by night he has a secret identity…
I used to think that the DVD was good, but Iron Monkey on Blu-ray looks really sweet. The film has had a 2k restoration for this 1.85:1 widescreen 1080p transfer, and the image is clear and sharp, and free of print damage, dirt or other signs of age. You get a constant level of film grain, and detail levels are good. It’s in the source material that the film may be found a little wanting, with much of the story set during night time, and the film stock not really great at picking up dark detail, or offering strong contrast. There is the odd moment of softness, and the occasional bit of jitter at scene transitions. But this is still a world away from that HKL DVD.
The images in this review were kindly supplied by Eureka Entertainment.
There is a whole lot of audio going on with this disc, and for the purposes of this review, I listened only to the DTS-HD MA 5.1 Surround Cantonese track with translated English subtitles. You also have the option of DTS-HD MA 5.1 Surround English, PCM 2.0 Stereo Mandarin, and PCM 1.0 Mono English and Cantonese. You also have a second English subtitle track, this time SDH for hard of hearing dub fans. It looks as if Eureka have redone the subtitles; certainly the error from that HKL DVD isn’t on this disc, and on screen text is now captioned as well. I was happy with the surround audio, keeping the dialogue clear and centralised, while sending the film’s music and action sequences to the surrounds. And when things get really serious in the fight sequences, your LFE will tell you so.
The disc boots straight to a static menu. No fuss, no waiting. There will also be a collector’s booklet with the first run of the film.
Now here’s where I think that Eureka have an in with whoever holds the rights to the Hong Kong Legends catalogue (or they’ve picked it up for themselves), as not only do we get the film, we get most of the HKL extra features as well. All that’s missing is the Bey Logan & Donnie Yen commentary (and an associated behind the scenes of the commentary featurette).
All of the featurettes are presented in 1080i 60Hz and scaled up.
Interview with Donnie Yen (19:36)
Interview with Producer Tsui Hark (24:36)
Interview with Yu Rong-Kwong (26:24)
Interview with Li Fai (25:21)
Interview with Angie Tsang (19:59)
Iron Fist – The Choreography of Iron Monkey (16:01)
Shadow Boxing with Alex Yip (8:11)
Li Fai and Angie Tsang at the 2003 Wu Shu Championships (9:10)
Finally the Theatrical Trailer lasts 4:43 and is in 1080p HD.
If you still have the Iron Monkey DVD from HKL/Cine Asia, you might want to hold onto that for the Bey Logan commentary. Actually if you want to be perverse, throw out the featurette disc in that 2 disc set, and replace it with this Blu-ray.
Iron Monkey is a sweet little movie that has a little of everything, all packaged in 90 minutes of sheer fun entertainment. That there is action is a given, with brilliantly choreographed and executed fight sequences throughout. There’s plenty of comedy, with a deftly applied light touch and some entertaining characters. There are some nice relationships too, with a father’s affection for his son, the understated romance between Dr Yang and his companion and assistant Orchid. The cinematography is wonderful, with some beautifully staged scenes. There is a scenery-chewing villain of the worst order, aided and abetted by some memorable henchmen. Finally there is the absolutely stunning climax, a no holds barred three-way showdown, perched precariously atop vertical posts while all the while fire blazes underfoot.
It is a Robin Hood, champion of the people tale, given a purely kung fu makeover, and the action is stunning from the outset. It starts out with a comedic tone, with the rather comical and corrupt town governor plagued by the thief, despite his chief guard’s best efforts to capture the miscreant. As the story progresses it becomes more serious and even a tad dark, but this is so cleverly accomplished that you don’t realise it happening. With each serious step there is a corresponding moment of hilarity to offset it. By the time the film concludes, the humour is mostly absent, but you’d be hard pressed to realise just how the film got to that point. It also took the featurettes to inform me of how ingrained in folklore these legends are, with the significance of the Wong Fei-Hung character passing me by. The beauty is that you don’t need any of the back-story to enjoy the film. It stands as a piece of entertainment on its own.
The film has a timelessness that is down to its subject matter. It’s easy to enjoy the adventures of a hero who fights corruption in all its forms and upholds the rights of the poor and downtrodden. Iron Monkey manages this with wit, humour and a good deal of style. Wire fu at its best.
I thought the action sequences were good on that old Hong Kong Legends disc, but seeing them in high definition and at the correct frame rate (no more PAL speed-up) brings a whole new meaning to the word mesmerising. This is some of the finest kung-fu action ever committed to celluloid from the master, Yuen Woo-Ping, and despite this being something like my fourth re-watch of the film, I was inching towards the edge of my seat as if it were the first time. Hong Kong action movies simply have to be seen in proper high definition, and I can’t tell you how eager I am to get my mitts on those new Police Story discs, with their 4k restoration!