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The Iron Monkey(1977)

November. 18,1977
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Iron is the son of a rebel leader, but prefers to spend his days gambling and getting into fights. When his father's group is arrested and executed, Iron is forced to flee and hide in the woods as a beggar and thief. After being taken in by a Shaolin monastery and trained in the art of Monkey-Style Kung Fu, Iron vows to hunt down his father's killer and avenge his death. Written by Jean-Marc Rocher

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The movie starts with animal cruelty mixed with two guys sparring. Kam Kong wants all the rebels killed. Chen Kuan-Tai's family is arrested while he is gambling and they are all killed. He is reduced to stealing the offerings at Shaolin. The monks offer him a place. It seems he has already learned most of their kung fu just by watching. He leaves the temple with the strategy "keep your friends close and your enemies closer". He becomes part of the corrupt officials that killed his family in order to get close enough to the general to kill the man at the top. Revenge is certainly the most common plot of martial arts movies and it might be the most common plot of all movies. I find it hard to understand why revenge is such a favorite plot in Chinese culture while at the same time the dominant Chinese philosophy is Buddhism and Buddhism has no place for revenge. "At what price revenge?" typically becomes a moral issue in the revenge plot. I would say never in the history of any martial arts revenge movie did revenge come at a higher price than in this movie. Fans of Chen Kuan-Tai must ask what was his best movie? "The Flying Guillotine" is certainly more well known but I consider this movie his best because he had more to do with it, he both acted and directed "The Iron Monkey" so I rate this as a ten of ten for Chen Kuan-Tai perfection.


Ma (Chen Kuan Tai) is too busy gambling and womanizing to be of much help when his family is rounded up by a local general. By the time he realizes what's going on and tries to intervene to save them, his relatives refuse to openly acknowledge that he's a member of the family. He's beaten senseless by a benevolent benefactor who claims that Ma is HIS insane son. Thus is he saved. To stop a younger son from revealing the truth to their jailers, Ma's father strangles the boy with a chain. The entire family is subsequently murdered. The next time we see Ma, he's a sneak thief known simply as "Monkey." He's allowed to join a Shaolin Temple he's been stealing food from and an elderly monk observes: "In your life, someone has planted much evil. You'll repay him in kind." Monkey, it's decided, will learn Monkey Fist from The Bitter Monk. Once he's learned what he needs to know, Iron Monkey bids farewell to the Shaolin Temple. "You're still full of hatred," the elderly monk tells him: "And, this time, I smell blood." In order to work his way up the ranks of the Ching army to get to the man he wants, Iron Monkey kills a lot of innocent people- including some "Shaolin rebels." Chen Kuan Tai doesn't monkey around in IRON MONKEY: he's a surprisingly capable director, and his Monkey Fist kung fu is far superior to the usual over-the-top antics we usually see from Monkey stylists. His fluid transitions from one stance to another are a joy to watch and he conveys a sense of power often lacking in Monkey style fight scenes.


Fans of Sonny Chiba and Bruce Lee may not find this movie to be their pride and joy, but will probably find it enjoyable nevertheless. Iron Monkey is set in Manchuria, and is made by Eastern Heroes Video Company. This fact alone would turn me off from the movie, because of the extremely conservative fight scenes (no decapitation). There is no gore, unlike the Street Fighter, and there is not that certain charm that Bruce Lee gives to his films. But somehow this film was able to please me through many well done fight sequences and a strong ending.


Iron Monkey is one of the best Kung Fu Movies ever made. Straight to the point plot and storyline. The movie has it all. Chin Kwan Tai's portrayal of the "monkey style" is the best I've ever seen in a movie (Monkey style in the 7 Grandmasters is also good) and I've seen all of the great Kung Fu Movies. Of all the "Teachers" in Kung Fu movies, Iron Monkey's teacher the "Bitter Monk" is also the best, he has a certain mystic quality about him. Superb training sequences are shown in mastering the monkey style with the Bitter Monk.. Also the background music flows with the movie excellently. All the elements of a great Kung Fu Movie are here: Shaolin Temple, Monks, great villians portrayed by the master of Eagle's Claw. The opening scene which shows the Monkey Fist and Eagle Claw techniques is top notch. Sound effects of the fighting scenes are also up to par. Some actors in Kung Fu movies don't fit the character they play, not here. Chin Kwan Tai seems tailored to play the role in this movie as Iron Monkey. Kung Fu dedication, words of wisdom and discipline are all theme's throughout Iron Monkey. There is one scene in the movie where a Head monk in Shaolin Temple can sense the presence of revenge and anger in Iron Monkey just by looking deeply in his eyes; he knows its for revenge and tells him of "his bloody debt to settle". Only after seeking this revenge can he be a monk in Shaolin Temple. Iron Monkey ranks right with director Chang Cheh's "Kid with the Golden Arms" and "Unbeatable Dragon" as one of the best Kung Fu movies of all time. 9/10 on the scale.

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