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At-A-Glance Film Reviews

Iron Monkey (1993)



Reviews and Comments

Ordinarily, I'm not the biggest fan of "wire fu," in which legendary fighters can fly through the air and perform impossible acts of athleticism. But if the film approaches the material in the right way, freedom from the physical laws of the universe can be an asset. Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon achieves serene beauty, not just in form and color but movement as well, in its breaking of physical laws. Iron Monkey finds humor, while still pulling off genuine suspense. The trick is that the characters are still bound by rules that determine what they can and cannot do -- it's just that the rules don't happen to be physical.

Plot isn't always a strong suit in action-packed martial arts films, but Iron Monkey's is actually pretty involved, as these things go. It starts as the Eastern version of Robin Hood or Zorro, then gradually evolves and branches out into a coming of age tale and a buddy flick. I liked that the story was more complex than a two-sided struggle: we don't necessarily know who's good and who's bad, but we do get the feeling that friends and rivals aren't partnered quite right.

It's impossible to take the literal events of this film seriously, and nor should you try. Once one can accept that it functions according to a system of rules of its own making, this winds up being a wonderfully fun action movie. You know how sometimes the joy filmmakers take in their work is exuberant enough to rub off on the audience? This is one such case. That tangible joy and unbridled energy, bound to a composite story of timeless archetypes, makes for a great time.