Yuen Woo-Ping's exhilarating martial arts film stars Yu Rong Guang as Dr. Yang, a kind family doctor who charitably provides medicine and care to impoverished villagers, along with his assistant, Orchid (the lovely Jean Wang). Yang, however, also masquerades as the crime-fighting Iron Monkey, who robs gold from the rich and gives to it the poor, much to the dismay of the corrupt local governor (James Wong). When famed fighter and physician Wong Kei-Ying (Donnie Yen) and his young son, Wong Fei-Hung (crossdressed actress Tsang Sze-Man), wander into town, the cowardly ruler captures the boy and pits his father against the elusive Iron Monkey. Eventually, the heroes must unite to face an even greater foe--a renegade Shaolin master (Yen Yee Kwan) and his treacherous lackeys.
This Chinese variation on the legend of Robin Hood is a good-natured (and often funny) action movie that features numerous outstanding fight scenes (including a battle fought on poles over a raging fire) and a surprising amount of cooking (yes, cooking). The film is the prequel to Tsui Hark's ONCE UPON A TIME IN CHINA series, which follows the adventures of folk hero Wong Fei-Hung as an adult. IRON MONKEY is particularly revelatory due to the amazing action sequences directed by Woo-Ping, who went on to choreograph the intricate fights of THE MATRIX and CROUCHING TIGER, HIDDEN DRAGON.