Iron Monkey (Blu-ray)
Directed by Yuen Wo-Ping
Aspect Ratio: 1.85:1 1080p AVC codec
Running Time: 86 minutes
Audio: DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 English; Dolby Digital 5.1 Chinese, 2.0 Spanish
Subtitles: SDH, Spanish
MSRP: $ 39.99
Release Date: September 15, 2009
Review Date: September 9, 2009
An innocuously entertaining comic adventure romp, Iron Monkey has none of the pseudo-seriousness that infused such later martial arts epics as Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon or Hero. Instead, this movie just wants to provide a fast paced action film filled with fight scenes and derring-do as unique to Chinese kung fu cinema as a superhero film like Batman or Spider-Man would be to us westerners. With martial arts choreographic expert Yuen Wo-Ping at the helm, it’s no surprise the combat scenes give the movie its raison d’etre.
With government corruption the order of the day, only one man has the courage to challenge the dishonest officials and fight back, and that’s the unknown warrior the Iron Monkey (Yu Rong-Guang). Unable to capture this elusive do-gooder who spreads the government’s gold among the poor and oppressed, the ruthless government devises a nefarious plan: force master fighter Wong Kei-Ying (Donnie Yen) into service by taking his beloved son (Tsang Sze-Man) hostage. But when the Iron Monkey's identity and true intentions are revealed to him, these two men, one known and one masked, join forces to take down the evil empire whose master warrior the royal minister (Hiu Hing) is an expert enough fighter to take both men on simultaneously.
Though ostensibly focused on the stories of Doctor Yang/The Iron Monkey and Wong Kei-Ying, the screenplay by Tsui Hark, Elsa Tang, and Lau Tai Mok also very cagily works in the story of one of China’s most famous warriors Wong Fei-hong (Tsang Sze-Man), the son of Wong Kei-Ying, as a young man on the verge of greatness. With three mythic warriors plus the added incentive of an expert female warrior, Doctor Yang’s assistant Miss Orchid (Jean Wang), the film doesn’t lack for fighters or fight scenes. In fact, the movie is overflowing with them. Coming at a time when CGI effects were in their infancy, the resultant combat sequences are pretty breathtaking. No, they don’t have the epic splendor or seriousness that was to come in the later kung fu mythic sagas, but the choreography and shot compositions are splendid and full of inventively fun images. The content of the film itself runs the gamut from slapstick comedy through emotional growth with a father and son and some dastardly deeds from the film’s many villains. And director Wo-Ping pulls out all the stops for the film’s fiery climactic battle. It’s quite definitely one of a kind.
Yu Rong-Guang’s Iron Monkey is a noble, ingratiating character, and his performance has tons of charisma. No less effective is Donnie Yen’s young father who grows appreciably during the course of the movie. Jean Wang has some splendid moments as the lovely Miss Orchid while Tsang Sze-Man is energy personified as the young warrior Fei-hong. Yuen Shun-Yi gets to overact like crazy as the silly, befuddled town chief while James Wong as the ornery governor and Hiu Hing as the merciless royal minister both make excellent hissable villains.
The film’s 1.85:1 theatrical aspect ratio is delivered in a 1080p transfer using the AVC codec. Image sharpness and detail are spotty throughout the transfer as many scenes fall victim to inconsistent contrast which flattens and softens the images. Some close-ups are quite nice and look wonderfully dimensional, but too often the image just doesn’t measure up to the best high definition has to offer. The film has been divided into 18 chapters.
The English dubbed soundtrack is the one which has been accorded the DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 sound mix, so that is the one I listened to for the purposes of this review. The music gets a nice spread through the total soundstage, but elsewhere, audio effects aren’t always exploited for optimum use. There’s a nice openness on occasion, but the English dubbing, of course, also results in some flat sounds from time to time.
Both interview featurettes are presented in 480i.
Quentin Tarantino speaks for 9 ¼ minutes about his enthusiasm for the genre and his work to get the films seen by a greater Western audience. Clips from some films other than Iron Monkey are also shown.
Co-star Donnie Yen gives a 6 ¼-minute interview detailing his education and his introduction into the world of martial arts films. He speaks fondly of his work in this particular movie especially.
The disc offers 1080p trailers for Adventureland, The Proposal, and Lost.
3/5 (not an average)
A movie that doesn’t have anything more serious on its mind than being a fun adventure, Iron Monkey will likely please many fans of martial arts films. The Blu-ray probably looks and sounds about as good as the film can, but the video and audio quality here are not at the top of the Blu-ray spectrum.