Iron Monkey (HK 1977)

Rating: ***
Review Date: 1/29/00
Director: Chen Kwan Tai
Cast: Chen Kwan Tai, Leung Ka-Yan, cameo by Wu Ma

Chen Kwan Tai's classic kung fu masterpiece. The nasty Chings are up to no good and slaughter an entire family of rebels. As luck would have it, their good-for-nothing eldest son (Chen Kwan Tai) manages to escape and hides himself in the mountains until a friendly Shaolin student invites him to study at Shaolin Temple. Burning with hatred and a need for revenge, he is given the name "Iron Monkey" and decides to learn the extremely difficult Shaolin monkey fist technique. He even trains with a real monkey at one point! When the opportunity presents itself, he leaves Shaolin and goes to work for the Chings in order to exact his revenge. Unfortunately, his hatred is so strong that he ends up having to betray and kill his own friends in order to keep his identity and objective secret. The burden finally becomes too much, and he lashes out on the Ching officers and kills them all one by one in a series of escalating and exhausting battles. His vengeance complete, he goes back to Shaolin to devote the rest of his life to Buddha. All around good stuff with excellent displays of Shaolin style fighting techniques. There are also a couple of great weapons battles, and Iron Monkey uses a three-sectional whip to great effect in a fight reminiscent of "36th Chamber Of Shaolin" (1978). As with many kung fu films, the editing and pacing is often choppy and confusing, but the fight cinematography is great. It's also amusing to see Wu Ma quite a bit younger than I'm used to seeing him.