The Iron Monkey (1977)
Reviewed by: Gaijin84 on 2008-08-04
Summary: Revenge is a dish best served with a monkey fist...
The Iron Monkey, not to be confused with the modern Donnie Yen film, is a story of a wayward son and the lengths taken to ensure revenge. While he is out gambling on the town "Iron"'s family is betrayed by an insider and turned in to the Ching government as traitors. He witnesses them being paraded through the streets, but is saved from revealing his own identity by his girlfriend and her confidant. Once they are imprisoned, Iron is on his own and resorts to stealing food from the local Shaolin monastery. He is caught by the monks, but persuades the abbots to allow him to stay and learn kung fu. He is already somewhat proficient, but eventually masters the Monkey Fist style with the help of the "Bitter Monk." When Ching representatives come and try to recruit some monks into their army, Iron, now tagged with the name "Iron Monkey," sees his opportunity for revenge.

The Iron Monkey is a classic revenge-driven kung fu film. The Ching government is seen as the pinnacle of evil, to the point that Iron Monkey's father is willing to kill one of his own captive sons in order to prevent Iron's identity and location from being revealed. Iron is never fully trusted by a few of the other monks, and this comes to a head when he decides to join the Ching army. In order to prove himself, he is unusually brutal in his disposal of rebels, so much so that he rises quickly in the ranks and gains the confidence of the captains. Iron Monkey also has to fight his own monk friends, and gives no quarter to any of them save for his best friend, whom he barely spares. This is all in order to get revenge for his family whose death he feels responsible for. It seems a bit dramatic, but it is meant to show the willpower Iron possesses and his singular-driven purpose in life. In the temple there are some good training sequences, especially those involving the Bitter Monk and a contraption built with hundreds of incense sticks attached that can be lowered, forcing Iron Monkey into the trademark crouching style employed by Monkey Fist practitioners.
The fights are ok, but somewhat of a disappointment considering those involved. Chen Kuan-Tai is a former martial arts champion (and director of the film!), but the execution of the fight choreography is very slow and methodical, as if they hadn't had enough time to practice. The climactic fight against Kam Kong, known for his Eagle Style, is especially slow.

Interesting foreshadowing occurs in the initial credits. As they roll, an actual fight between an eagle and a monkey is shown. It seems a bit one-sided as the eagle is not allowed to fly and is subsequently pummeled by the monkey. By the end, there are feathers strewn all over the simple white back-dropped set. I'm not sure if the eagle was hurt during the filming, but it didn't look like a pleasant scene.

Reviewer Score: 7