Iron Monkey (1993)
Directed by Yuen Woo-ping
Followed by Iron Monkey 2
Simplified Chinese 少年黄飞鸿之铁马骝
Iron Monkey is a 1993 Hong Kong martial arts-action film, directed by famed action choreographer Yuen Woo-ping.
The film is a fictionalized account of an episode in the childhood of the Chinese folk hero, Wong Fei Hung and his father, Wong Kei Ying (played by Donnie Yen).
The plot centers on a masked martial artist known as Iron Monkey. Iron Monkey is actually the alter ego of a herbal medicine physician named Yang Tianchun. In the day, he runs his clinic and provides free medical treatment for the poor and overcharges the rich. At night, he dresses in black and travels around town to rob from the rich to help the poor. Once, he breaks into the governor's residence and makes off with a hoard of gold. The guards and four Shaolin monks are unable to stop him. The governor sends Chief Fox to lead his men to hunt down Iron Monkey. Fox is obsessed with catching Iron Monkey and everybody seems very suspicious to him. He does not know that the masked man he is after, is in fact, the physician who provides free medical treatment for his wounded men who have fought with Iron Monkey.
A physician from Foshan named Wong Kei-Ying arrives in town with his young son Wong Fei Hung. Wong Kei Ying gets involved in a fight with some street thugs who attempt to rob him. Some soldiers who have been observing the fight nearby suspect that Wong Kei Ying is Iron Monkey and arrest Wong and his son. During the trial, the governor orders Wong Fei Hung to be branded for defiance. Iron Monkey appears and disrupts the proceedings. Wong Kei Ying is eager to prove his innocence and he fights with Iron Monkey. Neither emerges the victor and Iron Monkey escapes. The governor decides to use Wong Kei Ying to capture Iron Monkey. He keeps Wong Fei Hung in custody and orders Wong Kei Ying to capture Iron Monkey in seven days.
The locals despise Wong Kei Ying for assisting the governor in capturing their hero so they refuse to sell him food or provide him shelter. Wong eventually arrives at Yang's clinic and is taken in by Yang and his nurse Miss Orchid, while he is still unaware of Yang's true identity. With Chief Fox's assistance, Yang gets an ill Wong Fei Hung out of prison and keeps him at the clinic. Wong Fei Hung learns some new martial arts techniques from Yang and Miss Orchid during his stay.
Meanwhile, the Shaolin traitor Hin-Hung, who has become an imperial official, arrive in town with his followers. Hin-Hung takes over as the new governor. Iron Monkey and Wong Kei Ying run into Hin-Hung and his men in two separate encounters and are severely wounded in the fights. The two wounded men retreat back to the clinic. Wong Kei Ying is surprised to discover that Yang is actually Iron Monkey. Both of them assist each other in healing their wounds and they recover quickly. Hin-Hung orders his men to search the town for Iron Monkey and Wong Kei Ying, but Chief Fox (who appears to know more about Iron Monkey's true identity that he's let on before) gets to the clinic first to warn Miss Orchid. Hin-Hung's men eventually find their way to the clinic. Only Miss Orchid and Wong Fei Hung are present there, but they are no match for Hin-Hung's men and are captured.
Iron Monkey and Wong Kei Ying (now wearing an Iron Monkey costume) break into the governor's residence to rescue the captives. They have a final confrontation with Hin-Hung atop burning wooden poles. Eventually after an intense fight, Iron Monkey and Wong defeat Hin-Hung and knocks him down into the fiery inferno below. At the end of the film, a new governor takes over and they hope that he will be an incorrupt one. Wong Kei Ying and Wong Fei Hung leave town for Foshan while Yang and Miss Orchid see them off.
Yu Rongguang as Yang Tianchun/Iron Monkey
The film's domestic release was delayed due to producer Tsui Hark's insistence on filming some additional comedic scenes after Yuen Woo-ping had finished the film. According to an interview with Tsui on the Iron Monkey DVD, this delay may have had a negative effect on the film's box office returns.
The film was given a wide release in America by Miramax Films, backed by director Quentin Tarantino. It opened in October 2001 on 1,225 screens earning just over $6 million in its opening weekend and more than $14 million overall. It received good reviews in America, and became the 11th highest-grossing foreign language film in the US. The film received favorable reviews from critics, and it has a 91% rating on Rotten Tomatoes.
Numerous controversial edits and changes were made to the film for the US release, to the dismay of Hong Kong cinema fans.
In its release in 2001, Miramax made several changes that the company felt would make it more marketable to American audiences:
Since most Americans are unfamiliar with the story of Wong Fei Hung, his name was removed from the title.