Raging Tiger Vs. Monkey King (1978)
Reviewed by: ewaffle on 2008-03-12
Summary: You want me to marry a WHAT?!?
In “Raging Tiger vs. Monkey King” things begin badly for almost everyone and get worse. Carter Wong, the rebel king (RK) is fighting the king’s military advisor (Chan Sing) and losing. He throws dart at but misses and hits princess in the forehead. She falls into coma, the court doctors are helpless and the king sends word that anyone who can cure her can marry her. The rebel king arrives in town disguised as a doctor but is exposed and chased from the scene. Just as he escapes a monkey appears and gets entangled with the king's proclamation concerning the heath of the princess. He jumps onto a nearby building. The reaction of the soldiers and bystanders is really annoying--they are completely astounded, pointing at the simian and shouting as if they were not only seeing such a wonder for the first time but didn't know that such beings existed. They rush about pointing. Someone falls and is trampled by the frenzied crowd. An unlucky (but inevitable) food vendor shows up and his platter of tofu goes flying. Someone falls through a roof while trying to sneak up on the monkey and a soldier, costumed as if he was playing d'Artagnan in a Hong Kong remake of "The Three Musketeers", falls from the same roof into a puddle full of paint while his fellow guardsmen jeer at him.

It is clear that nothing much happens in this part of the world and that anything unusual might set off mass hysteria. The monkey at this point has done absolutely nothing other than appear and crawl around on a roof with the royal message on his back. The leader of the king's guard thinks that the monkey is trying to tell them that it has a cure for the Princess and so goes to the king with the good news. Desperate at the continued decline of their daughter the king and queen decide to try the monkey cure. Dr. Monkey has some medicine in a gourd and the Princess awakes within seconds of it being given to her.

Joy is short-lived, however, since the monkey can claim the hand of the Princess in marriage. The king's military advisor suggests they simply kill the monkey while his civilian counterpart tells the king this would be dangerous since most of the kingdom already knows about his daughter's miracle recovery. The king decides that the marriage must go forward; the Princess, while fond of the beast as a pet is aghast at the idea of sharing her life and her bed with it. But things can only get worse--the king, unable to face the consequences of his decision, has decreed that the Princess and the monkey be set adrift in a boat together. The queen, who delivers the news to her daughter, tells her that it is the only way and that she should understand. This is not exactly the type of heart-rending decision between a ruler's duty to his country and the life of his daughter that Euripides set for Amamemnon in "Iphigenia at Aulis".

At this point it is impossible (at least for me) to tell if "Raging Tiger vs. Monkey King" should be taken seriously or if it is just an elaborate and unfunny joke--particularly when the wedding takes place with all due solemnity and the king addresses the monkey as "son-in-law". Thinking there must be more to this movie than met this very unChinese eye, I continued to watch.

The rebel king has been located and guardsmen are sent to arrest him. Dispatching them easily, the RK heads for the capital where the king is wondering about succession to the throne. The queen convinces him to name his military advisor as commander-in-chief with rights of succession and, not surprisingly, the king is murdered in his bed that night. Glances exchanged by the queen and the new CinC boded ill for a continued peaceful reign for the king. The civilian advisor tells the commander-in-chief to assume the throne quickly so that there will be stability in the kingdom. Later the king's widow approaches the new king but when she tells him how happy she is now that she can sit next to him on the throne he thinks better of the deal they must have had and stabs her to death.

The court thinks the princess is dead. Her boat has been found, washed up on a rocky shore and badly damaged. But not only is she alive, she and her husband manage to produce a son although the infant does not resemble his putative father.

Years pass. The people are oppressed by the cruel king and his tax collectors while on their island paradise the Princess and the monkey raise their son, now an adolescent dressed in leopard skin. He calls the monkey "Uncle Monkey" and has a very well developed vocabulary for a child raised under such trying circumstances. The rebel king has spent the passing years on a mountaintop training and honing his kung fu skills. Upon returning to the capital he encounters the Princess' lady in waiting who knows who killed the old king (the new king) and who has a letter the king wrote in his own blood naming the murderer. The rebel king sets out to find the Princess. He meets the monkey who runs away and tries to hide but is killed by a snake. He then finds the Princess and explains that the monkey had been his constant companion back in the day and it was the RK himself who sent the monkey with the medicine to the palace. The Princess explains that the child is the rebel king’s son. Things have come an almost full circle. The rebel king returns to the palace where he is captured by the king. He is tortured as is the Princess' loyal lady in waiting who turns out to be disloyal. The king’s guards capture the Princess and the king is planning to torture them but is thwarted by the child who rallies a squad of monkeys to distract the guards and free the rebel king. The new king is put to death by the rebel king using his improved kung fu; the RK then marries the Princess and takes his rightful place on the throne with her and their son.

Some additional notes:

“Raging Tiger vs. Monkey King” has some excellent performances: Chan Sing is terrific as a completely evil person who really enjoys killing others and he has a wonderfully campy and protracted death scene that is as bloody as anything one would want. Wong Wai-Ling is also very good at being very bad. As the queen she is someone you love to hate and would be happy to see her character die but since it is at the hands of Chan Sing it isn’t quite so satisfying. She is also very attractive with a saucy, sexy sidelong look that could melt a statue.

Carter Wong was a not an artist who could express deeply felt emotion especially in close-ups. It is simply beyond his ability as a performer. The same is true of his leading lady Chin Chi-Min whose generally placid exterior isn’t well suited for the heavy dramatic lifting called for in this script, particularly during the tender moments with her son. She keeps things in control in the scene that many actresses would overplay, when she is told that she has to marry the monkey. The scene itself is so outrageously over the top, though, that the best actress in the world couldn’t make it believable.

Chou Mei-Yun, credited with make-up, used too heavy a hand on the eyeliner for the original king. In close-ups the heavy eye make-up made him look less regal and more punkish.

Most of the fights were shot from too far away to make them look like anything other than stuntmen jumping over each other while pretending to kick and hit. On the few occasions when the camera moved in closer Carter Wong (who action directed) was quite good.