Iron Monkey (Siunin Wong Fei-hung tsi Titmalau): Platinum Edition (1993)

If you create a user account, you can add your own review of this DVD

Released 22-Feb-2005

Cover Art

This review is sponsored by
BUY IT

Details At A Glance

General Extras
Category Martial Arts Menu Animation & Audio
Audio Commentary-Donnie Yen (Actor) And Bey Logan (Hong Kong Cinema Expert)
Trailer-Armour of God, Fist of Fury, Game of Death, The Big Boss
Interviews-Crew-Guiding Light - Interview With Tsui Hark (Producer)
Interviews-Cast-Shadow Warrior - Interview With Yu Rong-kwong
Interviews-Cast-Bewitched - Interview With Li Fai
Interviews-Cast-Role Reversal - Interview With Tsang Sze-man
Gallery-Photo
Theatrical Trailer-3
TV Spots
Featurette-A Dragon Re-Born: A Retrospective With Donnie Yen
Featurette-Iron Fist: A Look Behind The Action Of Iron Monkey
Featurette-Behind The Scenes-Shadow-Boxing: A Look At Hong Kong Action Choreographhy
Featurette-Floorshow: Footage Of The 2003 Wu Shu Championships
Biographies-Cast & Crew
Production Notes
Trailer-Once Upon a Time in China
Rating Rated M
Year Of Production 1993
Running Time 85:54
RSDL / Flipper RSDL (60:42)
Dual Disc Set
Cast & Crew
Start Up Menu
Region Coding 4 Directed By Woo-ping Yuen
Studio
Distributor
Fortune Star
Universal Pictures Home Video
Starring Rongguang Yu
Donnie Yen
Jean Wang
Yee Kwan Yan
James Wong
Hou Hsiao
Sze-Man Tsang
Shun-Yee Yuen
Fai Li
Case ?
RPI $34.95 Music William Woo
Johnny Yeung


Video Audio
Pan & Scan/Full Frame None Cantonese Dolby Digital 5.1 (384Kb/s)
Cantonese dts 5.1 (768Kb/s)
English Dolby Digital 5.1 (448Kb/s)
English Audio Commentary Dolby Digital 2.0 (192Kb/s)
Widescreen Aspect Ratio 1.78:1
16x9 Enhancement
16x9 Enhanced
Video Format 576i (PAL)
Original Aspect Ratio 1.85:1 Miscellaneous
Jacket Pictures No
Subtitles English
English for the Hearing Impaired
Smoking No
Annoying Product Placement No
Action In or After Credits No

NOTE: The Profanity Filter is ON. Turn it off here.

Plot Synopsis

    The famous Robin Hood of the old east, Iron Monkey steals money from the wealthy and corrupt and redistributes it to the poor and needy. By day, Iron Monkey is Dr Yang (Yu Rong-kwong), who runs a clinic, charging the poor nothing and the rich what they can afford. Arriving in town is Wong Kei-Ying (Donnie Yen) and his young son Wong Fei-Hung (Tsang Sze-Man). A righteous man, as we can see by his use of the umbrella in dealing with some hoodlums, Wong Kei-Ying is also one of the Ten Tigers of Canton, famous martial artists of the early Nineteenth Century.

    After his ill-gotten gains are taken in a night-time raid, the local Governor orders the arrest of anyone who might be the Monkey. So anyone who even looks like a monkey is taken in, and Wong and his son are caught up in the sweep of the city. The Iron Monkey appears at the prison to prove that he is not among those held, and Wong unsuccessfully attempts to capture him. The Governor decides to imprison Wong's son to force Wong to arrest the Iron Monkey. By coincidence Wong finds shelter in the house of Dr Yang, where he meets Orchid (Jean Wang), a woman Yang has redeemed from her life as a prostitute.

    I first saw this film on VHS in about 1997 and felt slightly bored and unimpressed by it all. More fool me. On this second viewing, Iron Monkey is actually an exciting, fast-paced and often funny romp, with much use of wire fu but also a considerable amount of real kung fu of the type practised by the real-life Wong Kei-Ying. Produced and written by Tsui Hark as a sort of prequel to his Once Upon a Time in China series, it has a consistency of look and structure not always present in the other films. There are a lot of spectacular martial arts sequences, from a fight on a roof between Wong and Yang to the climactic battle when the two join forces to fight the corrupt Imperial inspector, a monk who betrayed the Shaolin Temple, played with typical gusto by Yam Sai-Kwoon. The monk is the master of the deadly King Kong Palm, as well as the hilariously-named Nothing Special move.

    The performances are all excellent. Of note is Tsang Sze-Man as the young Wong Fei-Hung, completely convincing as a ten year-old boy even though she was a 14 year-old girl at the time. I had forgotten that the actor was a girl, and did not twig to this during the film. Having as the two leads a martial artist (Yen) and a Chinese opera star (Yu) works well, both being talented physical actors and looking as though they know what they are doing. The martial arts choreography is superb, so that even the untrained Taiwanese model Jean Wang in her first film convinces as a mistress of kung fu.

    The film is breathlessly directed by veteran action choreographer Yuen Woo-ping, he of The Matrix and Kill Bill (his brother Yuen Shun-Yee plays the likeable Master Fox, the upright head of security for the Governor). The story and action are perfectly integrated, though a couple of comedy sequences do not sit as well in the structure. The production design is excellent and totally convincing.

    When the film was initially released in Hong Kong it was a financial flop. Purchased by Miramax for release in the US, it was held back there until 2001 and the success of Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon. When eventually released, it briefly held the number one box office position. Unfortunately Miramax chose to trim and recut the film slightly, as well as to add a new score, but the version on this disc is the original Asian release.

    This film is well worth seeing, even if you don't ordinarily go for wire work.

Don't wish to see plot synopses in the future? Change your configuration.

Transfer Quality

Video

    The film is transferred in an aspect ratio of 1.78:1, not far from the original 1.85:1, and is 16x9 enhanced.

    It is hard to imagine how this video transfer could be improved upon, even though it is reportedly not as good as the original one-disc edition of the film. The video is very sharp and clear, with the detail exceptional. One can almost see the individual pores of the skin in close-up. Contrast is excellent as well.

    Colour is superb. Flesh tones appear realistic and vivid. Primary colours are rich and clean, especially blues. Blacks are solid without any sign of low level noise.

    There is not much to report in the way of artefacts. There are infrequent instances of aliasing, and some slight edge enhancement. Film artefacts are virtually non-existent, though some white flecks appear occasionally.

    Optional English subtitles appear in a good-sized white font and appear to translate the dialogue effectively.

    This is an RSDL-formatted disc with the layer change placed at 60:42. It occurs at a cut between scenes and is only slightly disruptive to the flow of the movie.

Video Ratings Summary
Sharpness
Shadow Detail
Colour
Grain/Pixelization
Film-To-Video Artefacts
Film Artefacts
Overall

Audio

    According to the disc menu, there is a Cantonese DTS 6.1 audio track on this disc. This is an error, as the only DTS track on the disc is a 5.1 mix, as confirmed by a small note on the back cover. There are also Cantonese and English Dolby Digital 5.1 tracks. I listened to both Cantonese tracks. For no sensible reason the default track is the English dub.

    There really is not much difference between the DTS and Dolby Digital tracks. If anything, the DTS track sounds a little stronger in the bass department, and elements of the soundtrack are firmer and more clearly separated in the DTS mix. On the other hand, I thought that dialogue sounded slightly cleaner and clearer on the Dolby Digital track. The differences are very tiny and will not be of consequence to most listeners. The centre channel is mixed at a noticeably higher level than the surrounds. Rear channel activity is limited to music and sound effects, with nothing really directional that I noticed. Low frequency effects emphasize the thud of fist against body, and there was some activity from the subwoofer, though it was not continuously in action.

    Dialogue throughout is clear, as far as I can tell given that I do not speak Cantonese. The audio seems to be very well recorded, though as usual with films from this country it seems to have been shot silent and a soundtrack dubbed in later. Some of the lip-syncing is atrocious.

    The music score is by William Woo and Johnny Yeung (of Yeung Talent Time fame?). It's a pretty good score, with lots of music played with traditional Chinese instruments as well as some more in Western style. There's good use of the familiar Wong Fei Hung theme when the character and his father first appear.

Audio Ratings Summary
Dialogue
Audio Sync
Clicks/Pops/Dropouts
Surround Channel Use
Subwoofer
Overall

Extras

    Unless otherwise stated, all of the extras are in 1.78:1 and 16x9 enhanced.

Disc One:

Menu Animation & Audio

    The menu cycles through some short sequences from the film, with some unrelated music playing in the background.

Audio Commentary-Donnie Yen (Actor) And Bey Logan (Hong Kong Cinema Expert)

    Another fine commentary from Hong Kong Legends, though this one concentrates less on the film than previous such commentaries that I have reviewed. Logan and Yen obviously know each other well and their interplay through the film is amusing and entertaining. There is discussion of Yen's background in martial arts and his career in movies.

A Classic Revisited (21:03)

    While the commentary was being recorded, the camera was rolling. So what we see here is Logan and Yen head-on as they watch the film and discuss it. This is made up of several excerpts from the commentary, so apart from the visual aspect there is nothing new here, except to see Logan as well as hear him. This item is not easy to find - you need to navigate to the audio commentary menu to find it.

Trailers-Armour of God, Fist of Fury, Game of Death, The Big Boss, Once Upon a Time in China (7:52)

    Trailers for other Hong Kong Legends releases, plus notes detailing the features on each disc.

Disc Two:

Interviews-Crew-Guiding Light - Interview With Tsui Hark (Producer) (24:36)

    A lengthy interview in English where the director speaks about his Wong Fei Hung films, from Once Upon a Time in China onwards, with not much about Iron Monkey.

Interviews-Cast-Shadow Warrior - Interview With Yu Rong-kwong (26:24)

    This interview seems to be in Mandarin with English subtitles. The actor talks about his background in Chinese Opera and his work in Iron Monkey.

Interviews-Cast-Bewitched - Interview With Li Fai (25:21)

    Li Fai plays the Witch character with a facial disfigurement in the film. She discusses her beginnings in martial arts, her stunt double work (with excerpts) and her life in general. In Cantonese with English subtitles.

Interviews-Cast-Role Reversal - Interview With Tsang Sze-man (19:59)

    A decade on, Tsang Sze-Man has not appeared in any further films, preferring to concentrate on her wu shu skills, which we see some excerpts of. She seems to remember a lot about the making of the film. In Cantonese with English subtitles.

Gallery-Photo (2:45)

    This is continuous footage of several production photographs with some generic music in the background.

Theatrical Trailers (9:13)

    Three trailers are included. Firstly, the original Hong Kong trailer (4:45) which may seem long for a trailer, but the first 1:06 is taken up with promos for the production companies and distributors.

    The other two trailers are both for the UK DVD release, one for the original edition and the other, slightly longer, for the Platinum Edition.

TV Spot (0:35)

    A single TV spot for the UK DVD release.

Featurette-A Dragon Re-Born: A Retrospective With Donnie Yen (19:35)

    This is basically an interview with Donnie Yen about his career and this film in particular. He discusses his views on kung fu and the influence it has had on Rap music. He also demonstrates a few moves for the camera, with some off-screen comments from Bey Logan.

Featurette-Iron Fist: A Look Behind The Action Of Iron Monkey (16:01)

    An interview with Yuen Cheung-Yan, action director on the film. His father was Yuen Siu Tien who played the Drunken Master in some early 1970s kung fu films. Numerous examples of fights from this film and other films he has worked on are included.

Featurette-Behind The Scenes-Shadow-Boxing: A Look At Hong Kong Action Choreography (8:11)

    Action choreographer Alex Yip and his students demonstrate several types of martial arts fights, firstly from one angle, then another, then inserts, and finally the whole sequence edited together. This gives some idea about how such fight scenes are shot and edited.

Featurette-Floorshow: Footage Of The 2003 Wu Shu Championships (15:49)

    Two sequences from these championships held in Macao. In the first sequence we see Angie Tsang Sze-man competing, performing a series of moves with a sword, and Li Fai in a synchronised sword routine. Angie finishes second in her competition. The second sequence has Li Fai performing Tai Chi moves.

Biographies-Cast & Crew

    Lengthy and informative text biographies of Donnie Yen, Yu Rong-kwong, Yuen Woo-Ping and Tsui Hark.

Production Notes

    16 pages of text detailing the background of the film.

R4 vs R1

NOTE: To view non-R4 releases, your equipment needs to be multi-zone compatible and usually also NTSC compatible.

    The UK-based Hong Kong Legends have released two editions of the film in Region 2, a Special Collector's Edition and the Platinum Edition. I have twice come across throw-away comments that the Platinum Edition video transfer is not as good as the original single disc Special Collector's Edition, but I have found no detailed explanation of the differences. The single-disc version included the following extras not found on the Platinum Edition:

    The single disc edition is also apparently coded for All Regions. The Platinum Edition appears to be identical to the new Region 4.

    The US Region 1 comes from Buena Vista Home Entertainment, and is of the American cut of the film, so about four minutes are missing and it has a new score by James L. Venable. This includes interviews with Quentin Tarantino and Donnie Yen, as well as a medley of the score from the film. Given that the film has been re-edited for Americans, I could not recommend this release, and the relative lack of extras also counts against it. It is also missing the DTS soundtrack.

    Another US release comes from Tai Seng, reportedly coded for All Regions. While a widescreen transfer, it is not 16x9 enhanced and has only mono soundtracks.

    An All Regions release from Deltamac in Hong Kong has a transfer that is not 16x9 enhanced, and just stereo soundtracks.

    On that basis, the Hong Kong Legends edition seems to be the best available. Whether the reported differences in video quality between the single-disc and Platinum disc editions are material or not, the video quality on the latter is still excellent and the extras package is superior. You could not go wrong with the new Region 4 release.

Summary

    An excellent, very entertaining picture which will only be offputting to purists who insist that their kung fu comes without wires.

    The video and audio quality are both excellent.

    The extras package is substantial and adds to the experience of the film.

Ratings (out of 5)

Video
Audio
Extras
Plot
Overall

© Philip Sawyer (Bio available.)
Saturday, March 26, 2005
Review Equipment
DVDPioneer DV-S733A, using Component output
DisplaySony 86CM Trinitron Wega KVHR36M31. Calibrated with Ultimate DVD Platinum. This display device is 16x9 capable.
Audio DecoderBuilt in to amplifier/receiver. Calibrated with Ultimate DVD Platinum.
AmplificationSony TA-DA9000ES
SpeakersMain: Tannoy Revolution R3; Centre: Tannoy Sensys DCC; Rear: Richter Harlequin; Subwoofer: JBL SUB175

Other Reviews
impulsegamer.com - RickT

Comments (Add)
Good stuff - Andrew
Audio difference R1 and R4 - Tidbit o info! - Anonymous
floor show info - Su Rule