by Mark Ahn
The Premise in 30 words, for the 30 days of Junesploitation!
Local vigilante takes from the corrupt to help the poor, upholds the common good. Villains try to catch him, but how can you lose when Donnie Yen is your backup?
The Most Junesploitation-y Parts
WIREWORK + KUNG FU = WIRE FU - Before director Yuen Woo-ping popularized wirework in American action movies for good as fight choreographer on the Matrix movies, he and producer Tsui Hark and pretty much everyone else were taking it to work every day in Hong Kong cinema starting in the 1970s. Nothing is more instantly recognizable in martial arts cinema than actors exploding into the air with jumps and spins; Iron Monkey carries on that tradition here, using wire effect to delineate the true kung fu masters from the mere mortals. Referring to a previously established tradition? That’s a Junesploitation staple.
The Best Bits
IT’S A TEAM UP - Although the movie is probably best known in this country for being a Donnie Yen movie presented by Quentin Tarantino (he’s a producer for the US release), he’s not the title character. When Wong Kei-ying (Yen) is forced to hunt the Iron Monkey in exchange for his son’s freedom, he is injured by the true villain of the movie, the new imperial magistrate Hin-hung, which in turn leads him to Dr. Yang’s clinic and the discovery that the good doctor is the Iron Monkey himself. And then one of my favorite things in movies happens, which is when powerful antagonists find common ground and combine forces to eradicate the true enemy. Which leads to…
In case you forgot, Junesploitation sometimes means weird stuff
TSUI HARK - Hark is a filmmaker/producer whose style is best described as a blend of all of his interests and influences, like action, comic books, fantasy, science fiction, and comedy. I would liken him to Luc Besson in this way, but as a compliment. If I were to hazard a guess, given Director Yuen’s predilection for straightforward action, the comedic scenes were probably Hark’s influence. My favorite visual gag is the Iron Monkey leaving notes with a message and a cartoon drawing of himself whenever leaving money or goods for the starving populace. One overzealous recipient tries to run off with the donations for himself, only to get instantly chided with a well-placed stone to the head and another note.
IRON MONKEY 2 - in 1996, Donnie Yen starred as the title role in a sequel unrelated to the first one (it makes sense, trust me). Yuen Woo-ping returned as action choreographer but not as director.