|The Iron Monkey (1977)|
|Director:||Chen Kuan Tai|
|Starring:||Hui Lou Chen, Chen Kuan Tai and Mu Chuan Chen|
|The Plot: Chen Kuan Tai plays the spoiled son of a well respected man of the community. The young man usually gets everything he wants and was blessed with the name of “Iron”, which is rather ironic since he is as soft as a pillow. When the Manchu come and capture his father, Iron is unable to help out in any way possible due to his lack of martial skill. He is ultimately forced to watch as his father is taken away and imprisoned. After this unfortunate event, Iron runs away into the forest and begins hiding in trees in order to keep away from all civilized beings. When he desperately needs food, he turns to breaking into a Shaolin temple in an attempt to gather food. When he is eventually busted, he decides to join Shaolin and learn Kung Fu. The students all seem to ostracize him, treating him poorly and looking to antagonize him. He is told that there is much anger in his heart by the head priest, so Iron swears not to fight anyone and throws himself headfirst into his training. Upon graduation, all Shaolin students are given the opportunity to choose a style to focus on. There is one style however that few ever grow to master and that is Shaolin Monkey Fist, which limits the student from learning any other styles due to its incredible difficulty. Iron begins his rigorous training though and failure is not an option! Will he learn this most difficult style and if so, will he go on towards his path of vengeance?
The scene is tame in comparison to the Italian cannibal genre and such however, don’t get me wrong. I doubt either animal was seriously injured during this, but for card carrying PETA members this still might agitate you. It might also agitate you to see Chen Kuan Tai sparring with a monkey some time later in the film as well, during the pre-requisite training sequence. He doesn’t actually punch the monkey square in the face or anything like that, he just sort of pats at its hands as if preparing to stop the monkey’s fists. This training sequence, which is an offspring of The 36th Chamber of Shaolin like almost all training sequences of this sort are, is one of the more entertaining segments in the film. In fact, everything that happens at Shaolin is quite fun. We see Chen Kuan Tai being bullied by his classmates and his resolute promise to not hurt anyone with his martial skill, it helps endear the character Iron to those of us in the audience. Up until this point in the movie, he might come across as a bit whiny but it is during this sequence where we really begin to see this man as a human being. While I had hoped to see his Shaolin classmates come around, and befriend Iron, by making the character such an outcast in all facets of life you can’t help but feel some sympathy for this character at the end of the day
One area that I really liked about the film, and when I mention additions to regular Kung Fu canon this is what I’m talking about, this movie doesn’t just delve directly into the black and white territory. In fact, this movie has some serious moral implications and question marks rolling through it at times. There is a sequence somewhere after the initial kidnapping of the Iron character’s father, where in a prison cell we see one of the more disturbing sequences I have seen in a Kung Fu film, period. Rather than allowing his son Iron to be caught by the Ching, Iron’s father kills a small boy who attempts to tell the Ching where Iron’s location may be. It isn’t often within the Kung Fu genre that you will see a small boy strangled to death, heck it isn’t often that you’ll see that in any kind of movie! The boy is literally choked to the point of seeing blood pour from his mouth. This brutal crime is simply the start of horrible deeds done in the act of either protecting Iron or allowing him to have his vengeance. After Iron’s initial training, he leaves Shaolin and goes to work undercover for the Ching army that have destroyed his family, but what makes the entire situation so morbid is that he is forced to commit atrocities towards his people while impressing the brass. All of this is done in an attempt to reach their top man and have his vengeance, but it still remains hard to forgive. Not only does he kill peasants during this, but he is also inevitably tasked with killing Shaolin men. This throws an incredible question mark into the movie, as we no longer really know what to make of the Iron character. This is part of what really works for Iron Monkey on a structural level. In a genre of repeated concepts, any new idea is a good idea and this moral ambiguity that the movie proposes struck me as totally engaging.