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Iron Monkey (1993) Print E-mail
Thursday, 17 September 2009
Image"Iron Monkey" is another Buena Vista release that is presented by Quentin Tarantino.  Bringing this film to American release is genius.  This is a great martial arts film in terms of choreography.  This martial arts film is based on thievery and enslavement.  I found this film to be better than most critics have pronounced.  It has all the elements of enjoyment.

"Iron Monkey," from 1993 not to be confused with the film of the same name from 1977, has a simplistic story that has convincing performances despite the dubbed audio track.  The Iron Monkey is a martial artist that is like the Robin Hood of China.  He steals from the rich and gives to the poor.  Trying to escape evil tyrants in the countryside, peasants travel to the city to look for justice.  Unfortunately, they are might with enslavement work conditions and more thievery.

Iron Monkey is the hero name of Dr. Yang (Rongguang Yu).  The physician is a respected gentleman in the community.  He gives free care to those in need while continuing to charge the rich.  The head security officer for the governor is onto the identity of the Iron Monkey and continually strays the governor in the wrong direction as to let the Iron Monkey remain free.

When the governor receives word that the minister of the province is coming to find out why the Iron Monkey remains on the loose, the governor takes drastic measures.  He orders his guards to arrest anyone that looks or acts like they could be the Iron Monkey.  Wong Kei-Ying, a highly-respect master from Forshan is caught in the wrong place at the wrong time.  He and his son are taken into custody for their martial arts skills.  The governor holds all the suspects in contempt, demanding for the Iron Monkey to reveal himself.  When the Iron Monkey appears, Wong Kei-Ying fights him in order to try and free everyone being held improperly.

The governor orders Wong Kei-Ying to arrest the Iron Monkey, as Kei-Ying is the only one that seems to be an equal match for the Iron Monkey.  The governor holds Kei-Ying's son in order to avoid him from skipping town.  The common folk of the village refuse all services to Wong Kei-Ying due to his task of arresting the Iron Monkey.

After several days without food, Miss Orchid (Jean Wang), Dr. Yang's assistant and romantic interest, takes Kei-Ying in and provides him with food and shelter.  Dr. Yang and Miss Orchid are aware of the task that lies before Kei-Ying.  Using his prominence as a physician, Dr. Yang is able to remove Kei-Ying's son from the dungeon and bring him back to his place.
The minister finally arrives to the village and orders his Shaolin monks to find the Iron Monkey.  Still, the monks are no match for the Monkey and he is able to defeat them despite the trap that they set.  The minister, a traitor to the Shaolin and severely injures the Iron Monkey with a striking blow.  At the same time the high minister faces off against Kei-Ying, leaving him injured as well.

Both Kei-Ying and the Iron Monkey are able to heal each other.  It is then that Kei-Ying realizes what the Iron Monkey is trying to do.  Together, along with Miss Orchid, who also is skilled in the way of martial arts, taken on the minister and the monks in order to once again save Kei-Ying's son.

The battle sequences are simply amazing.  The choreography simply stunning.  The only problem is that the film is sped up to make the choreography seem more impressive.  Contrary to the filmmakers' intents, the film speed destroys the effect of the choreography.  Sped up film is always a part of martial arts films, however, this film took speed to a new height.  Nevertheless it is interesting to watch.

Miss Orchid, played by Jean Wang is a pleasure to watch.  I am surprised that she has not had a most lustrous career.

Buena Vista brings the film to Blu-ray with an AVC encode and a 1.85:1 aspect ratio.  Despite being a 1993 film, the video transfer is quite good.  The overall presentation is uneven, but nevertheless it is enjoyable to watch.  There is a moderate layer of film grain that permeates throughout the film.  Nighttime sequences display more grain that other sequences.  Artifacting is kept to a minimum.  Edge enhancement is most prominent in this release.  Still, this is a huge upgrade form the standard DVD release.  Colors are fairly dull, as is typical for this style of film.  However, the lack of great black levels in this transfer leaves the image looking extremely flat.  Details are pretty strong, but textures are dull, also contributing to the flat image.  Image depth is probably my biggest gripe with this film.  It is hard to stay focused due to the blending of the background and foreground.

As with the all Ultimate Force of Four releases, this Blu-ray comes with a DTS-HD Master Audio English dubbed audio track, subtitled in English.  The original Chinese audio track is presented in a lossy Dolby Digital format.  Of the Ultimate Force of Four collection on Blu-ray, this release has the best LFE output.  More separation between punches and kicks is desired, but nevertheless the LFE is thumping and strong.  It just needs a bit of clarity.  Surround usage is abundant.  However, effects in the surrounds lack directionality and the panning is stocky at best.  That being said, it is immersive.  The dynamics to the lossless track are expansive, but once again the frequency response is limited.  Dialogue is better balanced in this mix than in "The Legend of Drunken Master."  Trying to discern any type of lip sync is a joke.  The dialogue may be off by an entire scene it is so poorly dubbed.  As with the other Ultimate Force of Four titles, the subtitles go by too quickly.  Making it difficult to actually watch the action.  The lossless track packs quite a punch, but the original Dolby Digital track is less enthusiastic.  Still, for the layman out there, this will be a sonic experience.  For more trained listeners, the lack of clarity will be stifling.

The Blu-ray edition of "Iron Monkey" contains the same bonus materials as its DVD release.  The features have been left in standard definition.  As with all the Ultimate Force of Four releases, there is no audio commentary.  There are two, less than 10-minute interviews.  The first is with Quentin Tarantino and the second with Donnie Yen.  Neither interview is informative and can be skipped.

"Iron Monkey" is an entertaining film with incredible martial arts sequences.  Unfortunately the speed up of the footage is disturbing.  The video and audio quality are better than the standard DVD, but are still not faithful to the original film print.  Nevertheless, the transfers are above average for a 1993 film.  I recommend this film to martial arts fans.

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