When I first went to see Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon, there was a family sitting in front of me. They had a jumbo tub o’ popcorn, the extra large soda, and a whole mess- load of kids. As soon as the movie started, they walked out. Subtitles and five year olds, it seems, don’t mix.
Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon was a massive success in the U.S. almost exclusively because of its gorgeously choreographed fight scenes. From the pish-posh roof-topping to the smashing tree-top limb-hopping, the movie’s action sequences inspired positive reviews from critics and mainstream movie-goers (many of whom, like the aforementioned family, would never consciously go see a subtitled flick) alike.
The man responsible for the masterful acrobatics, Woo-Ping Yuen, was also responsible for the genre-defining fight scenes in The Matrix. As Miramax discovered, Yuen’s early career as a Hong Kong action director resulted in some other, equally impressive action fare, such as the 1993 kung fu flick Iron Monkey.
PG-13 for action violence, brief sexuality
Iron Monkey concerns the exploits of a Chinese Robin Hood and his friends as they try to rid their village of greedy, corrupt officials. The main characters include Dr. Yang (Rongguang Yu), the benevolent town doctor by day and Iron Monkey by night; Wong Kei-Ying, also a physician and founder of his own ‘shadowless kick” kung-fu; and Young Won Fei-Hung, the son of Kei-Ying. They are joined by the Iron Monkey’s gorgeous female sidekick Orchid Ho (Jean Wang) in a fight against the shark-fin soup eating, harem-having politicians and their formidable nefarious henchmen.
Front Door Wide OpenSo you’ve seen some variation of the plot before. But the fight scenes are extraordinary. From the intricate shout outs (or “singing”) of the various moves (“Thousand Pound Descend”, “Shaolin Golden Palm”, “White Virgin Stance”) to the impressive and unusual umbrella fight, Yuen’s superhuman sequences never let down.
Hong Kong vets Donnie Yen and Ronguang Yu are particularly impressive in their scenes. In one of the most mind-boggling film battles I’ve yet seen, the two manage to battle the fierce guardian of the Shaolin Golden Palm (Hou Hsiao) while balanced on tall, thin bamboo reeds. Oh yeah, and they’re on fire. Sick, sick stuff.
Also of note is the fabulous Sze-Mon Tsang, who does a remarkable job of portraying Young Won Fei-Hung, son of Wong Kei-Ying, despite that fact that he is definitely a she. I didn’t realize this until doing research after the film, so color me impressed.