Lady Iron Monkey
Lady Iron Monkey
aka The Ape Girl aka Zui Hou Nu
Starring (This is guesswork)
Fung Ling Kam as Ming Ling Shur (the Ape Girl)
Lap Bo Au as Drunken Monk
Sing Chen as Prince Yan Shing
Man Tai Lee as Evil Advisor
Lo Lieh as Assassin Millenrapen
Directed by Chi-Hwa Chen
Lady Iron Monkey (or The Ape Girl as it was known before producers tried to cash in on Iron Monkey getting a theatrical release in America) is a pretty fun flick that takes us to a world where a girl is raised by monkeys, and uses her monkey abilities to become a master of kung fu. She beats up plenty of people along the way, and her monkeyness gets her into several spots of trouble. The films doesn’t take itself too seriously, bordering on campy, but is serious enough that they don’t do any of the annoying “acknowledging that they’re in a movie” type stuff. The goofiness allows the movie to flow quickly and to the point, and you get disarmed from questioning the logic of certain events. In addition, some of the plot is centered on actual Chinese history, though that is prevalent in many Chinese Kung Fu films, some of which is ruined by terrible dubbing. Even if this is just a response to Charlton Heston demanding damn dirty ape stinking paws off him, it’s still pretty entertaining. Actress Fung Ling Kam/Gam Fung-Ling (or Kim Fung Li as she’s billed as) wasn’t in many films, IMDB has this as her sole credit and I only found two more that even listed her (thanks to Google) titled Iron Bridge Kung-Fu and The Gloomy Tower (aka Shaolin 36 Beads, which was released on DVD – UPDATE: I recently saw The Gloomy Tower and Gam Fung-Ling is nowhere to be found) IMDB being incomplete regarding Asian cinema? I never!! At least they even have a listing for this film. Lady Iron Monkey also has early roles for Lo Lieh, who plays an assassin and would go on to be a very famous martial arts star; as well as Chen Sing, who also had a long career despite not reaching the level of fame as Lo Lieh. With this information here, we will seemingly become the leading resource for information about The Ape Girl/Lady Iron Monkey
The opening credits is the traditional 1970’s kung fu movie opening with the star posing different stances as the credits run by. We get Ming Ling Shur, the Ape Girl, dancing around doing her monkey style kung fu, and who is she joined by? A chimpanzee! Chimpy is flipping around, doing some of the same flips and jumps Ming Ling Shur does as well. The print is pretty scratched up, but it’s suddenly clear as day when the title appears (because it’s a retitle.) Ming Ling Shur is a hairy girl, with hair on her arms and monkey makeup on her face. She’s also pretty good at acting like a monkey, with big, exaggerated movements. It adds to the charm of the film, as does the Ape Girl Theme which plays during the lighthearted moments. This is a film about an ape girl, it isn’t going to be the most serious thing in the universe.
The actual films starts as Shorty and Fatty are sound asleep in the forest, and they are soon being surrounded by monkey children looking for trouble! These aren’t your father’s damn dirty apes, they are some local Chinese children that are wearing animal pajamas! Also, these monkeys can fly, like all real monkeys! (Unlike the Wizard of Oz, they have no wings, so they fly kung fu like.) Ming Ling Shur is with them, and is a typical 12-year-old girl that looks like she’s half monkey. She leads the charge in tormenting Shorty and Fatty, who become scared targets who cower before the might of monkey children. The two flee, but run into their master Old Man in a few seconds. The bow before him and beg him to help, so he asks to be brought to the monkeys. After some kung fu moves, he manages to capture Ming Ling Shur. He discovers she’s human, and Fatty asks why she has hair all over, Old Man replies that he doesn’t know. That’s all the explanation we’ll be getting, so I hope you like it. It’s good they took the out right off the bat, and just went with it having no explanation. Old Man declares that he will teach her to be human again. Old Man’s wife also helps Ape Girl learn, as well as teaching Shorty and Fatty their schooling. Old Man is the local priest/doctor who takes care of the surrounding region and knows all sorts of medicine. He’s like a wandering mystic who just happens to have a home base and a loving wife. Fatty, Shorty, and Ming Ling Shur are like his three dysfunctional children.
We get a montage sequence as Ming Ling Shur grows up into actress Fung Ling Kam, where she displays lots of flipping skills and monkey-style kung fu. Afterwards, Fatty and Shorty decide to go visit the local village girl Ak Tou, who has grown up to be a looker. As we are told several times. Ak Tou is washing clothes at the stream, and Fatty and Shorty creep up to start giving her complements. Their goofy falling over themselves to tell her she’s grown up to be a looker is both sad and hilarious. They offer to do her laundry for her, but Ming Ling Shur overheard them heading over, and comes strolling out to see what the big deal is. She demands to know what they’re doing, and her appearance frightens off Ak Tou. Ming Ling Shur tells them she has plenty for them to do, but they ask why they should help her, as she’s hairy and ugly. DAMN! Of course, these guys aren’t exactly Chang Chen and Sek Sau, so they have little to be snobbish about. Shorty continues his attack, speaking in his dubbed English accent “If you ask me, you should look at yourself in a mirror, and then you’ll see just how ugly you are with your hair!” That’s pretty cold, plus an Ape Girl can always use a razor, but you will always be short! Ming Ling Shur beats them up for calling her ugly and storms off to town.
Meanwhile, a bridal procession is passing through, with a noblewoman being brought to her wedding. The procession takes a break at the local Buddhist temple. Ming Ling Shur goes inside while the bride is inside praying, and one look at Ming Ling Shur causes the bride to faint. Ming Ling Shur decides to dress up in her fancy clothes for fun, which includes a veil, so when the servants come in to take her back, they don’t recognize that she’s really an Ape Girl. An easy mistake to make, if you’re in a TV sitcom. The expecting groom is a dorky guy, and Ming Ling Shur goofs around at the ceremony while some zany sound effects add to the humor. That’s helpful, as some of the gags seem to be cultural, and traditional Chinese wedding faux pas don’t translate that well in the USA. Somehow, they make it all the way to the honeymoon night without her being discovered, and finally he takes off her covering, and sees her monkeyness. Even if he didn’t know the girl (which seems likely) someone should have noticed she was acting weird, especially for a wedding. Her handlers should have noticed, unless the bride is a drunk or something. The groom runs away scared, and grabs some help to get the “monster” in his room. The groom’s men take sticks to try to beat her with, but Ming Ling Shur defeats them all, and then leaves.
Ming Ling Shur will be causing more trouble in town, as it seems she doesn’t leave the house much. She wanders around the village for a while, and strolls into a restaurant, stealing a chicken or two. The restaurant needs to hire a bouncer, what with Ape Girls strolling in all the time eating chicken. Soon, the restaurant has degraded to a massive food fight. The owner grabs her, getting her in trouble. She’s soon saved, but not by doing some monkey kung fu. A rich guy wanders in and offers to pay for what she did. Who is he? He’s the Prince, and even though he’s the villain, and does nothing good for the rest of the film, for some reason he does something nice here. This impresses Ming Ling Shur, and she tries to follow him. It turns out the Prince goes into a private building, and the guards require an invitation to get inside. Ming Ling Shur has no such invitation, and they refuse to let her in. The guards prove to be more formidable opponents than the wedding party, and she can’t get past them. She then spies a Drunken Monk with an invitation, and smirks as she gets an idea. What could the idea possibly be? Buying a cat? Inventing the electric hair dryer? Licking a toad? Nope, it’s stealing the invitation, of course! Sorry that you had to put up with some lame jokes before we move on to Ming Ling Shur trying to steal from an inebriated holy man. The movie made me do it! The lame jokes…they’re contagious!
She first acts friendly, then suddenly grabs the invitation with absolutely no stealth. Of course that’s not going to go over well, so the Drunken Monk sends the servants that are with him to go beat her up. Should we call these Drunken Goons? They pull out their staffs (no, not those staffs, you pervs!) and Drunken Monk gets the invitation back in the chaos. The battle still rages, and in the confusion Ming Ling Shur grabs the invitation back and manages to get to the door. We just had a Monk vs. Monkey fight, which I’m surprised wasn’t the name of a 1970’s era kung fu movie. Presenting the invitation, the guards let her in, despite their prior knowledge that she shouldn’t have an invitation at all. I guess these aren’t the brightest bulbs on the Christmas tree. The guards also let in the Drunken Monk without an invitation, thus making their letting in of Ming Ling Shur even more confusing! Inside, there is a gathering of village chiefs, led by a Mr. Lee. Today is the birthday of The Prince, and they are there to celebrate. Ming Ling Shur starts some trouble, and one of the chiefs shouts “You’re only a Monkey Girl! Don’t make any trouble, or we’ll have to DEAL with you!” He and another guy challenge her to a fight, despite the Drunken Monk trying to warn them off. The entire party moves outside for a kung fu match. I’ve been to several birthday parties, but they never had organized kung fu matches. Okay, one kung fu match, but it was more improvised. It’s good that they already have an arena set up outside the meeting hall in case there was reason for a kung fu challenge. Ming Ling Shur fights not only those two guys, but must first face around 20 other guys, who attack in waves of three or four. After them, the first challenger, a guy in blue pajamas with white flowers, grabs a spear to try to stop her. We get a nicely choreographed scene with lots of spear thrusting and Ape Girl dodging, but in the end she defeats him by stealing his hair covering. I guess he’s a Muslim woman or something. The other original challenger uses the sticks (the weapon that’s three sticks connected by chains) and we get some more cool shots, but Ming Ling Shur manages to get some of the opponent’s hair, thus winning again. The secret to defeating anyone who challenges you in kung fu is grabbing something off their head! Now you know, and knowing is half the battle. GI Joe!
Everyone goes back to the banquet that Mr. Lee has set up. The Prince arrives to see them all, it turns out he’s a Manchu Prince, thus different from the ethnic Han Chinese villagers. Westerners looking for a good fight flick on TV would have no clue what the difference is here, so this politics is lost on us unless we have the magic of Wikipedia. To make it even more confusing, Mr. Lee tells the village chiefs that he picked this Prince to be the one they support because only he will give the people luck, due to both his birthday and the predicted year of inauguration. Even so, Mr. Lee mentions that the Prince is not like them and is possibly evil. This must be some complicated math that comes up with that formula, or the current rulers are so ineffective that having an evil ruler is an improvement! Hey, he may be killing your family, but your crops are doing well! Four more years! The village chiefs are suspicious, as they should be, but the Prince gives a speech trying to convince them. His entire proof of his good will is he hasn’t lied to them before. They don’t mention that he hasn’t really spoken to them before, or that not lying before but also being evil is not a good combination for ensuring someone still won’t lie to you or be really evil.
MASKED ASSASSIN ATTACK!! A masked assassin tries to kill the Prince right after a rough jump cut. Ming Ling Shur follows the action as the Prince himself fights his attacker, ripping off the mask…It’s Lo Lieh! One of the classic Chinese actors, starring in dozens of Shaw Brothers films over the years. The fight continues, as the Prince falls, and Ming Ling Shur steps in to defend him. Prince holds back other guards, takes off his shirt, and then attacks with Eagle Claw. The fight goes on a bit longer, but the assassin is defeated. He’s revealed to be a Tibetan Monk named Millenrapen (what in the world?) that I hope is a non-translated name and not something the dubbers came up with. The Assassin Monk refuses to name who hired him and is taken away. He would have gotten away with it, if it wasn’t for that meddling Monkey Girl! The Prince is impressed with Ming Ling Shur and invites her to his castle to be one of his bodyguards. Ming Ling Shur is happy as she’s in love, and waltzes into the chamber of the Queen (which there isn’t one yet, so this is the Chamber of the Not Yet Existing Queen) and tries on a dress that only the Queen can wear (who doesn’t exist yet), as well as putting on way too much face makeup. She looks like a crazed monkey clown. She goes to visit the Prince, who is chatting with his uncle. The uncle tells the Prince that the King died, and wrote the name of his successor on a piece of parchment, which he gave to an elder who will read it in three days. Three days? This must be before the Twentieth Amendment and the rights of succession. Oh, and it’s ancient China, not America, so that doesn’t apply anyway. Prince gets the idea to send Ming Ling Shur to go steal the parchment, telling her it’s a painting and that this is a test of her stealth skills. Will she have the skillz to pay the billz? Or is she illz? Chillz, my brothas! He lays on the not believing her skills bit real thick, so she’ll agree. Ming Ling Shur dresses in all black like a ninja, and she’s spotted! But it’s only by the Prince’s own guards, who see her returning with the parchment.
The parchment mentions a different prince will become king, which throws off the whole “become king” plan. Except the uncle has an idea, change the parchment so it reads the Prince’s name! Why didn’t he think of that in the first place? I thought that was the whole bloody point of this! They get Ming Ling Shur to put it back, and then the Prince goes to drink with his mistress. Ming Ling Shur bursts in, yelling at the mistress to get out. Ape Girl hits her and shoves her to the ground, while the Prince has to pretend to not care that the mistress is being hurt. Instead, he tries to get Ming Ling Shur drunk, so she’ll pass out and he can go back to his mistress, who he prefers due to the less facial hair and no tail. Ming Ling Shur keeps asking if he thinks she’s pretty, but soon passes out from all the alcohol. The Prince then goes to visit his girl, who is crying. She’s understandably upset that the Prince let her get beat up by a Monkey Girl, and the Prince has to tell her that he finds Ming Ling Shur ugly. That’s it? Most girls you’d need to give a truck load of diamonds to make up for letting them get beat up by an Ape Girl, and that’s if they didn’t already kick you in your nards. Ming Ling Shur seems to have woken up, and overhears the Prince badmouthing her. I guess he should have slipped in some rohypnol or something.
Ming Ling Shur storms off and heads back home. She wants to get rid of her hair, and threatens to kill herself if she can’t be pretty. Old Man still refuses, but his wife will do it in secret. The Ancient Chinese Secret for removing unwanted monkey hair is to sit in a rain barrel for three days straight as special chemicals are poured in. It starts to work, and on the third day, huge clumps of hair are now floating in the water. Let’s not think about what else is floating in the water after three straight days. Also, the makeup that made Ming Ling Shur look more monkey-ish is also missing. So not only is hair removed, but it also gives major reconstructive surgery! Old Man storms in just before the end of the third day, and smashes the barrels, spilling hairy water everywhere. Luckily for Ming Ling Shur, she’s wearing some underclothes, otherwise this would be a really creepy scene. Still, being taken out too early had its drawback: Ming Ling Shur still has her tail! TAIL??? When did Ming Ling Shur have a tail? I guess they forgot it the first 2/3 of the film! Old Man and his wife argue, we get the feeling that’s their favorite hobby.
Luckily, Old Man will teach Ming Ling Shur to use her tail in kung fu. Like he should have been doing from the get go, if you ask me, and you should, as I’ve successfully raised 13 Ape Girls and a Clam Boy, all of which are kung fu masters. Old Man starts Ming Ling Shur on a training plan, so we get a montage sequence where Ming Ling Shur uses her tail as a whip to pick up a bunch of bowls, which she has to balance on her body. Fatty and Shorty gawk and mock while all this goes on. The next step is candles everywhere as stances are practiced. Soon she is using her tail to split candles in half and put out the flames, then whipping a whole field of candles. The town’s candlestick maker must have been doing lots of overtime for this movie. Rub-a-dub-dub indeed. Hey, you try making jokes about candlesticks! At least I didn’t use a “wick” pun!
Training montage has ended, and now Ming Ling Shur is sitting on a swing, and beginning to regret that she changed. Fatty and Shorty offer to take her for a walk (I guess they think she made a lateral move from monkey to dog…which is unfair as she’s quite a looker.) but she decides she wants to see the Evil Prince again. Ladies, don’t let Evil Princes steal your heart, it can only end in pain. Evil pain. Fatty and Shorty warn that things are more dangerous now that the Prince is king. But Ming Ling Shur leaves to see him anyway. His guards try to arrest her, and she easily fights them off, monkey kung fu style! The battle rages all throughout the palace, until the Prince orders the guards to leave. He offers to make her a general, but she wants to be queen! He tells her that she can be queen and a general. I guess a queeneral or something. Meanwhile, the Prince’s soldiers are arresting people at random, ticking off the village heads who supported the Prince earlier in the film. They’ve formed a rebellion, the 8 Heroes. It was originally called the 9 Heroes, but one of the members was a goat and they were hungry one night… The 8 Heroes are upset that the Han Chinese aren’t being treated equal to the Manchu Chinese, and are ready to rally the Han Chinese majority. All of this is based on real historical facts: Prince Manchu, the 8 Heroes, the Ape Girl, a rebellion, Chinese Monkeys being really flying children in pajamas, the whole thing! Prince realizes that would be trouble, and his adviser gives him an idea: arrange a meeting with the rebels, and kill them all! He’ll also kill Ming Ling Shur as an added bonus! The Prince is like an amateur Darth Vader. Or like an amateur evil king from Braveheart, which this movie is just as accurate as! Monkey Girl will soon be wearing blue pain and mooning the camera, before being arrested for drunk driving and blaming the Jews. Monkey Jews!
The meeting is set up, and the 8 Heroes all arrive to attend. Many of these 8 Heroes were at the previous meeting as village chiefs, including the Drunken Monk, the Blue Pajamas Guy, Mr. Lee, and some guy named Mr. Lu. The Prince is on the gazebo (or whatever a Chinese gazebo is called – chinezbo) with them, until he’s called away as the Queen has just given birth to a son. That’s all a ruse, as he’s going to blow up the gazebo and everyone on it. The Prince’s fatal flaw is he made the fuse much too long. It must be like 1000 feet, as six of the 8 Heroes have plenty of time to escape, as does Ming Ling Shur, who figures out that they’re going to get blown up. Unfortunately, the Drunken Monk and Mr. Lu were too slow to escape, and were killed in the explosion. NOOOO!! Not Drunken Monk? Who will be drunk? The Prince sends his soldiers to finish the rest off, but the 8…I mean 6 Heroes Plus Ape Girl make short work of them. They confront the Prince, who tries to explain it off, then attacks Ming Ling Shur. This was pretty weird watching the Prince try to explain himself at first before he realized that was pretty freaking stupid and just attacked them. Maybe he was trying to get them off guard or something. The Prince and his bodyguard are capable of taking on the seven themselves, with the Prince’s Eagle Claw tearing into the enemies, while the bodyguard is using short sticks to help him get the upper hand. The heroes start to work together, but the Prince can still stay them off. The bodyguard manages to kill one of the 6 Heroes + 1 with one of his sticks, but then loses a stick when it is torn away by Ming Ling Shur’s tail, as the fight continues. The bodyguard is the best fighter of the group, as he’s fighting off the most enemies at the same time, and even Ming Ling Shur. Ming Ling Shur plans that she alone should fight the Prince, while the surviving Heroes fight the bodyguard. The Prince taunts her “I see, so you want to die!”
We get a long, satisfying fight at Ming Ling Shur switches to drunken monkey style kung fu, which allows her to dance around and act all loopy as the fight continues and the funny Ape Girl music plays. Ming Ling Shur even jumps on the Prince’s shoulders at one point and grabs his neck by her tail. He is defeated, but she doesn’t kill him due to their prior friendship, as she’s still delusioned. He was using you, sister! One of the 8 Heroes has been stabbed by a knife, but pulls it out and throws it at the Prince’s stomach. The Prince is hit, and runs away wounded. The bodyguard is still fighting, and Ming Ling Shur goes to fight him now. She gives him a tail to the neck, wrapping it around his neck as she flies into the air, hanging him like a Christmas ornament. As she chokes him dead the movie ends instantly, even as he’s still dying.
Not too many movies that I can think of end with the heroine choking a random bodyguard by using her prehensile tail. Maybe only 10, 20 movies tops. Lady Iron Monkey is pretty light-hearted, and its forays into fun help make the movie flow together and it becomes far more entertaining than a straightly serious or straightly spoofy film. Plus, we got a bunch of children running around in Halloween costumes pretending to be monkeys, as well as a midget. Both monkeys and midgets score any film extra points (especially if dubbed in British accents.) The rest of the film’s kung fu antics are pretty entertaining, even if they aren’t the best ever filmed, but it’s obvious some work went into the choreography. We’ll be keeping an eye out for actress Fung Ling Kam in the era’s Chinese movies to see how often she turns up, despite the scant coverage online. She must be in more than just those three, especially since they seem to be spread out over several years, and she had a large role in this film. She’s probably got a large amount of minor film appearances, and hopefully she will be spotted again, maybe even while dancing as a monkey. And maybe Shorty and Fatty will be running around as well, trolling for girls who’ve grown up to be quite a looker.
Rated 7/10 (Chimpy, Evil Uncle, Hanging Chad, Chinese Monkeys, Old Man’s Wife, Tail?, Final Fight)