Iron Monkey 2 Review

Donnie Yen is likely to be most peoples’ reason for checking out Iron Monkey 2, though his name has never been a guarantor of quality – just consider another belated sequel, Highlander Endgame, as evidence. Indeed this 1996 effort bears little resemblance to Yuen Wo Ping’s original, with the eponymous figure now reinvented as a kind of early twentieth century superhero: “the iron monkey never shows his face”. Such a change in tact is likely to alienate fans of the first Iron Monkey, yet taken on its own terms, number two makes for an engaging piece of fluff.

Though hardly a Sin City, Iron Monkey 2 is very much a comic book prospect. Despite Yen being relegated to a supporting role in his own movie, there’s a cartoon-ish element to support his superhero-style exploits. The villains wear eye-patches, ponchos and sharp suits in reference to the more over the top excesses of the gangster film and spaghetti Western; the violence is likewise pitched a notch too high with a gory, not to mention bizarre, decapitation figuring early on; and the acting and slapstick humour both operate on a broad level that recalls early silent American comedies. As for the plotting, this is similarly two-dimensional as well as being instantly forgettable: a pair of con artists masquerading as Iron Monkey and a poor innocent get involved in illegal arms dealings, a scheme masterminded by the evil Jade Tiger. We know he’s evil of course as he carries a gun – a traditional ‘baddie’ device most notably used in Kurosawa’s Yojimbo - whilst the con artists are dismissed as mere “rascals” and hence are the ‘good guys’.

Yet such a flimsiness actually works in Iron Monkey 2’s favour inasmuch as it leaves plenty of room for the martial artistry. And where the film proves most inviting is in the fact that it retains Yeun Wo Ping from the original as choreographer. Taking a typically hectic approach, Yeun invigorates the entire affair. From the off the concentration is quite clearly on the action as we witness a murderous Chinese opera troupe and a daring sea rescue before we are able to take any bearings. Indeed director Chao Lu Jiang seems more at home with the fight scenes than anything else and ably matches their physicality in his techniques – though his editing is scant, he adopts a mobility to his camerawork in order to emphasise their sheer pace. And yet, he also never gives the impression of being bored or disinterested by the less physical moments, rather he maintains the cartoon-ish tone so that things never become dull.

That said, Iron Monkey 2 is hardly a film which grips and attentions are likely to wander from time to time, although the plotting is such that bearings can easily be picked up on again. Indeed, there’s something cheap and cheerful about it which makes it appealing in spite of itself. It’s hardly the kind of film to rush out and buy, but then it does make for pleasing rental fodder, an aspect enhanced by the disc itself. As with a number of other Optimum Asia back catalogue releases we may get the original Cantonese dialogue and a the original aspect, but this sadly comes courtesy of an old print, one which shows plenty of dirt and damage as well as being non-anamorphically transferred. That said, the clarity is a little better than in some of their other recent titles, whilst the soundtrack is generally fine.

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