Making the Grades
DURING THE 19TH CENTURY, the village of Chekaing is gripped in the corrupt rule of Governor Cheng (James Wong), an aging Chinese official who is repeatedly robbed by a Robin Hood-like bandit known as the Iron Monkey. The poverty-stricken peasants consider the nighttime raider a hero, but his victim is desperate to stop the attacks. Taking a young boy (Sze-Man Tsang) hostage, Governor Cheng forces his father, Wong Kei-Ying (Donnie Yen), a visiting physician with extraordinary kung fu skills, to help corral the masked robber before the arrival of the Royal Minister (Sai-Kun Yam).
Anxious for the safe return of his son, Wong Kei-Ying is sheltered in the local clinic of kind-hearted Doctor Yang (Rongguang Yu) and his ward, Miss Orchid (Jean Wang), while he searches for the Iron Monkey. But when Kei-Ying uncovers the identity of the people's benefactor, he is torn between the demands of the profiteering politician and the welfare of the impoverished townsfolk.
Miramax Studios recently acquired the theatrical rights for the 1993 production of Iron Monkey, which had previously been released as a direct-to-video film in the U.S. Featuring the impressive "wire fu" choreography of Yuen Woo-Ping, (Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon and The Matrix), the film is full of graphic depictions of martial arts fighting including repeated kicks to the head and face, and the use of swords, knives, chains, and even an umbrella. While the violence includes some bloody mouths and one gruesome scene of a steel ball shot into an eye, most characters walk away from the battles unscathed--a rather improbable feat considering the property damage left in their battles' wake.
Parents will find themselves wrestling with the movie's numerous fight scenes, justification of robbery because it is directed against an evil regent, and the use of bribes and kidnapping to get a brothel business underway. However, tucked between these concerns, Wong Kei-Ying comes to appreciate both his gifted young son who is yearning for parental approval, and the compassionate fugitive who is seeking relief for beleaguered villagers. Families will have to decide if these worthwhile values outweigh all the monkey business in between.