- The Washington Times - Friday, October 12, 2001

"Iron Monkey" isn't masquerading as a new movie, although Miramax probably would be content to have it mistaken for one.
A freshly subtitled revamp of a Hong Kong martial-arts comedy-adventure spectacle made about a decade ago, it is one of the features directed by Yuen Wo-Ping, the veteran filmmaker who achieved international renown in recent years for supervising the gravity-defying stunts in "The Matrix" and "Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon."
Mr. Yuen, the son of a theater and film actor, began working as a stuntman in the 1960s and branched out to stunt supervision and direction in the 1970s.
He was responsible for some of the breakthrough Jackie Chan hits of the late 1970s. While continuing to direct action movies, he also served as the "action choreographer" on pictures directed by others, achieving an awesome blend of kinetic excitement and lyrical grandeur while collaborating with Ang Lee on "Crouching Tiger."
"Iron Monkey" is a far less exalted conception than "Crouching Tiger." Nevertheless, it is lively and ingratiating entertainment. Some moviegoers even may prefer its formulaic modesty and predictability to the exceptional loftiness and refinement of "Crouching Tiger."
It probably would be a reliable introductory movie to the martial-arts genre, setting a classier example than slapdash and absurdly dubbed productions but still wedded to stock characters and genial hokum and acrobatic, frequently slapstick set pieces.
It's cleverly calculated to familiarize newcomers with the conventions and gratifications of the genre in one bustling package.
The title alludes to a masked marvel of mid-19th-century vintage who bears striking resemblances to Robin Hood and Zorro. By day, Dr. Yang (Yu Ruan-Guang) is a respectable physician, the supervisor of a clinic in a provincial capital of eastern China. By night, he becomes an elusive defender of the weak and scourge of corrupt imperial officials.
Assisted by Miss Orchid (Jean Wang), who duplicates his double life, Dr. Yang relieves some of the burdens of taxation and oppression imposed on the populace by stealing from their tormentors, notably a lecherous and fuming governor played by James Wong.
As if Dr. Yang and Miss Orchid were not formidable enough, "Iron Monkey" recruits a second folk hero, Wong Kei-ying (Donnie Yen), to join the crusade, accompanied by his chip-off-the-block son, 10-year-old Wong Fei-hong (Tsang Sze-Man), destined for an illustrious manhood as a martial-arts virtuoso.
A stranger to the district, the elder Wong is compelled initially to pursue the Iron Monkey, whom he knows only by hearsay as an outlaw. His suspicions are awakened somewhat belatedly, because the younger Wong is held as a hostage right off the bat by the governor's minions. Moreover, the man-hunting commission earns Wong the instant hostility of townspeople, who regard Iron Monkey as their protector.
The action sequences are plentiful, inventive and amusing. I particularly liked Wong Kei-ying's opening battle with his umbrella as an impromptu staff.
One of the happier examples of throwaway silliness comes when the local gendarmes are ordered to round up all plausible Iron Monkey suspects and they dutifully include an actual monkey among the horde of detainees.
Despite some breathtaking illusions, the finale suffers from overcalculation. Mr. Yuen doesn't seem to have the resources necessary to authenticate the crucial stunts.

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