Based on the story of real life hero Miller Six and his battle against the oppressive Manchu rulers, “Iron Fisted Monk” signaled Sammo Hung’s debut in the director’s chair, in an effort that is faulty, but quite indicative of what was about to follow, particularly in terms of action, although with a rather unusual splash of intense exploitation
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After a Shaw Brothers-like intro where Sammo Hung gets to show off his abilities in martial arts, we are actually introduced to his character, Husker, who is training in a Shaolin temple, while frequently indulging in various shenanigans, mostly revolving around him getting more food. The reason for his training is soon revealed to be rather serious, though, as his decision came after a number of Manchu bannermen beat his uncle to death and were about to do the same to him, before the Iron Fisted Monk appeared and taught them a lesson. Eventually, Husker escapes the temple in order to exact revenge, but he is confronted by his masters and forced to take four tests.
At the same time, a Manchu official is going on a rape spree, and nobody seems to be able to stop him, with his first victim being Liang’s sister, who commits suicide afterwards. Liang soon joins Husker and the Iron Fisted Monk, who decide to teach a number of factory workers kung fu, in order to stand up against the Manchus. Their effort, however, ends in tragedy, and revenge seems like the only path.
Let me start with the obvious: the script of the film, which Hung wrote along Huang Feng and Yu Ting, is quite faulty, featuring a number of plot holes and an overall faulty effort to include as many episodes as possible, without though taking care of connecting them. The same applies to the direction, with Hung using a number of different techniques, from slow motion to jump cuts and split frames that do not seem to have any particular purpose apart, maybe, from making an impression. Furthermore, his command over his actors is also thin, with a number of them appearing too excessive (even for an HK martial arts film) and their performances frequently succumbing to the melodrama.
On the other hand, the action choreographies are quite good, if also a bit excessive, with Hung highlighting his ability as both an action choreographer and a martial artist. Particularly the quite lengthy finale is impressive in its violent glory, with Hung, Chang Sing as The Iron Fisted Monk, Fung Hark-On as the raping official and Chiu Hong as another Manchu fighter presenting a truly memorable sequence.
The part that allows the film to stand out truly, however, is the permeating elements of exploitation, in a tactic rarely witnessed in Sammo Hung’s films. Particularly a rather prolonged rape scene, much nudity, and the quite violent nature of the majority of battles border on the grotesque, in a concept that fans of gore and in general, exploitation will definitely appreciate, even if the aforementioned scene is quite hard to watch.
“Iron Fisted Monk” has its faults, but a number of great fighting sequences and the exploitation elements deem it a movie that definitely stands out in the vast filmography of Sammo Hung, since it is one of the few that will appeal to fans of both martial arts and exploitation.