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Not Rated
Copyright 1977 Ching Hua Film Company Ltd.
Reviewed by Andrew Borntreger on 3 November 2002

The Characters:  

  • As is common with these films, my grasp of the characters' monikers is tenuous.
  • Iron Monkey - He is full of rage and kills numerous innocents during the movie's course. Oddly, he becomes a monk.
  • The Abbott - Wise Buddhist whose eyebrows wrap all the way around to his ears.
  • The Bitter Monk - The only member of Shaolin to fully master the Monkey Fist style. Give the man a banana.
  • Hue Yin - An operative of the Chings. He is ruthless and likes to infiltrate rebel groups. Dead.
  • The Captains - There are two of them, but both get more monkey than they can handle.
  • The General - He has a simple plan for dealing with dissidents: kill them. A practiced expert at Eagle Claw style, he needed to spend more time on personal hygiene, especially those fingernails. Another Iron Monkey victim.
  • The Common Soldier - You do not want to be one of these guys.

Buy It!

The Plot: 

The opening credits roll as a fighter practices his martial arts in the background. He is using an unorthodox style, with the body crouched and hands clawing sideways through the air. The text on the screen and narrator provide background about Monkey Fist kung fu. Another fighter, this one a practitioner of Eagle Claw, appears and the two duel for a while. Nothing out of the ordinary for a Hong Kong fu flick, but then the monkey and eagle (at the least it is definitely a raptor) are introduced. The primate is quite unhappy, since the bird of prey was obviously provoked into attacking and possesses sharp talons. The eagle is similarly displeased, because the monkey responds by pulling out handfuls of pinion feathers. Needless to say, the SPCA was probably not consulted about this movie.

The movie focuses around the Ching government and its violent efforts to stamp out dissidents. Iron (no monkey yet) is the irresponsible son of one rebel leader. While the old man plans the group's defense of freedom, Iron gets into trouble gambling. Why is he named Iron? No matter how hard somebody beats on him, he emerges relatively unharmed.

Hue Yin joins the rebel group and betrays them to the Captains. The lot is captured by Ching soldiers and threatened with death; only the person who reveals where Iron is will be allowed to live. A chubby kid, perhaps Iron's younger brother, tries to save his own skin. Iron's father loops a chain around the brat's neck and strangles him to death. In the end, all the insurgents are executed.

Homeless and with no family, Iron begins raiding Shaolin temple for food. The monks are mystified by who or what could be stealing the provisions; they assign a number of students to capture the party responsible. The students argue back and forth whether the thief is a monkey or a man until Iron's appearance puts that debate to rest. The hungry young man escapes the trap, but one intrepid student realizes the human monkey must be living in the nearby woods. The compassionate Shaolin disciple tracks down Iron and convinces him to join the temple.

Consider for a minute the wisdom of stealing food from Shaolin. The temple was (at least according to kung movies) filled with powerful martial arts warriors. A modern equivalent would be burglarizing a police barracks. Suddenly you are on the ground, with a German Shepherd gnawing through your hand and three excited rookies testing their batons on your head, while a fourth fumbles to remove the pepper spray from his belt. That sounds like loads of fun. Count my ass out.

Iron progresses quickly in his studies, causing the other students to become envious. When the time comes for choosing a style, the students are excited. However, one student will be allowed to study Monkey Fist and must forsake all other forms. Most of the students want to study as many styles as possible. The long-suffering Iron is a natural, considering his past exploits. He volunteers to become the disciple of the Bitter Monk.

The idea of becoming the student of anyone with "Bitter" in their description should give you pause; especially when the subject matter is kung fu. Iron greets the unhappy monk and is soon on the defensive against both verbal and physical assault. Nonetheless, the young man learns to walk like a monkey (on clay jugs), crouch like a monkey (to avoid suspended burning sticks), and fight like a monkey (striking sideways and rolling).

The exceptional student is driven by a burning desire: to kill the General and avenge his father's death. The vendetta prevents him from becoming a perfect Buddhist.

Joining the Ching forces, Iron Monkey proves his loyalty by slaughtering dozens of dissidents. He cares nothing for their lives - they are only stepping stones in a journey to earn a private audience with the main bad guy. I cannot agree with the end justifying the means, though Mr. Monkey does ask to see the General after each atrocity. He even fights a number of Shaolin students, including the kind benefactor who pulled him from the woods.

Further innocent lives are spared when the government plots to destroy Shaolin. The furtive Iron Monkey can no longer play the part of willing executioner and he starts killing off the Ching officers in order of seniority. It sucked to be in Hue Yin's billet. That is for certain.

The General's guards are the matter of some effort for our protagonist, two sword masters proving to be particularly difficult, but Iron Monkey finally faces off against the General. I think that the big boss knew Eagle Claw (we see flashbacks of the monkey fighting the eagle).

"Iron Monkey" is a solid old school kung fu flick. The main character studies at a temple under a harsh, but expert, teacher and the fight scenes are filled with elaborate choreography. During the battle with the General's guards, Iron Monkey uses a spear and the fight scene is especially good. I recommend it to anyone who enjoys weapon fu. Now, if I could only reconcile the protagonist contributing to the deaths of all those poor people...

Things I Learned From This Movie: 

  • The Ching Dynasty did not like monkeys.
  • China has a patron saint of lost causes.
  • Shaolin is like a soup kitchen, but with kung fu.
  • Bald people are pure of heart.
  • Buddha needs to go on a diet.
  • Being punched three times in the chest is fatal.
  • People make the funniest faces when they are strangled to death.

Stuff To Watch For: 

  • 7 mins - You have wooden poles. They are using swords. Good-bye!
  • 19 mins - Rain, just like a Kurosawa film. Okay, maybe not just like one, but it is raining.
  • 32 mins - The temple must buy bleach in bulk.
  • 50 mins - And now the "playing with the monkey" jokes start.
  • 72 mins - What an interesting way to scalp a man...
  • 81 mins - This is the Chinese version of Whack-a-Mole.

 Audio clips in wav formatSOUNDSStarving actors speak out 

Green Music Note ironmonkey1.wav Student: "Teacher, he steals food like a monkey, and climbs like a monkey as well. Call him 'Iron Monkey.'"
Green Music Note ironmonkey2.wav Abbott: "The Chings now rule here, and all people must obey them. But, in this temple, we serve only God, the great Lord Buddha himself. Please leave!"
Green Music Note ironmonkey3.wav Iron Monkey: "May I thank the General in person?"
Captain: "Hmm. Well, if you want the honor of seeing the General himself, you'll have to kill some more Chinese first."
Green Music Note ironmonkey4.wav General: "Just why did you pretend to become our man?"
Iron Monkey: "Only for one purpose. That was to kill you!"

 Click for a larger imageIMAGESScenes from the movie 


 Watch a sceneVIDEOMPEG video files 

Video Clipironmonkey1.mpg - 2.3m
Iron Monkey fights one of the two Captains, whose kung fu is not nearly as powerful as that of the young Shaolin disciple. The final outcome of this contest is obvious.

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