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Hey, everyone. "Moriarty" here with some Rumblings From The Lab.

Today’s a pretty groovy day at the movies if you play your cards right. Barry Levinson’s BANDITS seems to have its fans, people who think it’s a quirky, charming comedy. SPRIGGAN opens in limited release for anime fans, and the new VAMPIRE HUNTER D film is also open. CORKY ROMANO is there for people who haven’t already been bludgeoned beyond caring by the ceaseless ad campaign for the bloody thing. MY FIRST MISTER is opening if you need a nap. And then there’s IRON MONKEY and MULHOLLAND DRIVE.

I saw these films under very different circumstances. IRON MONKEY was a no-brainer. Miramax called and asked if I wanted to go to a screening of the film. Duh. I’ve been in a kung-fu mood lately, and even if I wasn’t, I’ve heard enough about this one that I would make the time to see it. I went to the smaller of the screening rooms at Raleigh Studios with John Robie and Dr. Michael Hfuhruhrr, and when we sat down, I was still under the mistaken impression that I’d seen this film already. I remember one night when Knowles was in town, and he had a stack of DVDs with him that we showed here at the Labs. STORMRIDERS, A MAN CALLED HERO, and IRON MONKEY. I saw the first two with everyone, and I realized about ten minutes into the film that I must have left before IRON MONKEY came on that night. In a way, I’m glad. The experience I had with the film was great, in a theater, with excellent subtitles and an impressively remixed soundtrack. According to the good Doctor, the film was essentially unchanged. He’s an IRON MONKEY addict who’s watched his own DVD copy of it several dozen times. He loved the new presentation and said it felt like a new film for him, as well, just because of how well-treated it had been.

Yeun Wo Ping’s film is a great adventure story, a fable on par with Errol Flynn’s ROBIN HOOD. There’s a great purity to how IRON MONKEY is told. The Iron Monkey is the mysterious figure of justice who fights the corrupt governor (James Wong) of the province in order to better the lives of the people who live there. By day, he is Dr. Yang (Yu Rong-Guang), who charges the rich steep fees for his services so he can care for the poor for free. He’s assisted by the beautiful Miss Orchid (Jean Wang), who is revealed to be just as graceful and formidable in battle as Yang himself. Her backstory is etched in a few nimble flashback scenes, and the bond between her and Yang is deeper than a romantic one. They are bound by the rightness of what they’re doing. There’s a moment early in the film where a gust of wind scatters some papers around the large main room of the clinic, and they both become lighter than air, spinning around the room, collecting the papers in an aerial dance scene that is achingly lovely. Here’s where a film like IRON MONKEY takes something as potentially overused and tired as wire-fu and makes it vital and interesting. When these characters fly during battle, we accept it as possible because we have seen them also fly during a moment of joy. It feels right in this world, natural.

There’s a rich supporting cast of characters here. Chief Fox (Yuen Shun-Yi) is a favorite of mine. He’s the main enforcer for the Governor, charged with catching and stopping The Iron Monkey. Chief Fox knows more than he lets on early in the film, though, and his sympathies may not be what we are led to believe. It’s a genuinely funny comic performance. In fact, the comedy is one of the things that makes IRON MONKEY special. It’s not labored or forced. There’s a gentle, sweet quality to the sense of humor here. This is a film that should play to the same age range that Robert Rodriguez’s excellent SPY KIDS does. Part of that is because of the father-son relationship between Wong Kei-Ying (Donnie Yen) and Wong Fei-Hung (Tsang Sze-Man). Any fan of martial arts cinema knows who Wong Fei-Hung is. Both Jackie Chan (DRUNKEN MASTER I and II) and Jet Li (ONCE UPON A TIME IN CHINA) have played the folk hero, but as an adult. Here we’re treated to a story of the young Wong Fei-Hung, learning the ideas of heroism from the way The Iron Monkey and his own father work together to stop the Governor and, later, The Royal Minister (Yen Yee-Kwan), a great badass villain character with all sorts of nasty tricks at his disposal. The story and the characters all scream Tsui Hark, and his hand as writer and producer of the film are quite obvious. What makes this special, though, is the work of director/choreographer Yuen Wo Ping, who is essentially a Bob Fosse or a Stanley Donen here, a director whose chief job is to convey the grace and the motion and the impact of these fights.

Trying to explain IRON MONKEY to someone who hasn’t seen it would be difficult, though. Like any pure cinema, it must be seen to be understood. All of it. In context. The trailers for this new release left me cold. I think some of them are actually enough to keep me from seeing the movie. But when you see the way it all plays out, it’s a delight, a film that leaves you feeling energized and well-pleased. Each of the main characters has moments where they shine, specific action scenes that are memorable and amazing. Part of what makes the film work is its constant drive to up the stakes, up the action. The climax, staged on top of flaming poles, is a winner, improbable and insane, delirious in the way it’s staged. If you have even a passing interest in this genre, get your ass to a theater this weekend and support a release done right, a real credit to Miramax. They haven’t shown this much respect to an eastern import since PRINCESS MONONOKE, and they certainly picked a worthy title for the treatment.

How I saw MULHOLLAND DRIVE is a little more complicated. We frequently use cover stories for our sources here on the site, obfuscating just a bit in order to keep peoples jobs safe. But I’m going to explain exactly how MULHOLLAND arrived at the Labs because it somehow feels tied into the experience of actually watching David Lynch’s haunting new vision.

It started with me bitching here on the site about not having seen the film yet. I am not on Universal’s press list, so I knew I wouldn’t be invited to any screenings for the movie. C’est la vie. I was just impatient for the actual release so I could lay eyes on it for myself. One morning, I got an e-mail from someone asking if I’d like to see the film, and asking for an address if I was interested. I sent them back my mailing address. The next morning, Henchman Mongo came back to where I was working with two videotapes held together with rubberbands. Both had been painted on with White-Out. Both said MULHOLLAND DRIVE on the spine. There was something vaguely creepy about the way they looked, all marked up like that. Mongo said he found them on the front windowsill of the Labs. I was immediately psyched to see the film, and popped the first of the two tapes in the VCR.

The Studio Canal Plus logo came up first, then a colorful sort of montage of people dancing. It was silent, making their crazed jitterbugging look strange, exaggerated. I kept watching as the credits began. A car winds its way up Mulholland Drive at night, all by itself. Still silence. A car full of kids races by the camera, somewhere else, a quick cut, still silent. I got a sinking feeling as the face of the gorgeous Laura Harring appeared onscreen and she spoke. There was no sound. No dialogue. I recognized her from a show I used to do closed-captioning for, a miserable Aaron Spelling soap opera called SUNSET BEACH, where she played Paula. I fast-forwarded just far enough to see a car accident that also played out in silence, and then I shut the tape off. The copy was beautiful. No time code. Letterboxed. And no sound.

I wrote back to my mysterious benefactor, who shot me a quick replay saying I’d have a new copy by Sunday. Sure enough, Sunday morning rolled around, and I rolled out of bed with my girl to go get some breakfast. On our way out of the apartment, we found another pair of tapes on the front windowsill. These were in cases, taped together instead of rubberbanded this time, and these weren’t just marked up with White-Out... they were attacked, ravaged. It was like someone had bled White-Out into the two cases. Even amidst the chaos, there was a creepy design to it all, though. I took these tapes in and checked the first one. The same opening images played out, the same quality of transfer, and this time, there was sound. I turned the tape off and set them aside for later that night.

The point is, all of that feels like the sort of thing that would happen to someone in the film MULHOLLAND DRIVE. I can just picture The Cowboy on the front steps of my building in the wee hours of the morning, carefully placing the tape for me to find when I woke up. I can imagine the order being issued by Michael Anderson, the famous backwards-dancing midget from TWIN PEAKS, who shows up in an equally oblique role this time out. I can picture the White-Out being applied by the man who lives out behind the Winkie’s on Sunset. And all of this creeps me out.

David Lynch proved with THE STRAIGHT STORY that he is still perfectly capable of telling a conventional narrative story, and doing so with grace and heart. He is not a man who is incapable of communicating with his art. When he makes a film like MULHOLLAND or LOST HIGHWAY or FIRE WALK WITH ME or ERASERHEAD, he is still trying to convey certain ideas and story points. He’s just doing it in a way that is uniquely his. He has a world view as skewed and grotesque as that of Dali or Picasso, and there is a purity to his art that has to be admired. His frequent collaborators Angelo Badalamenti (score) and Mary Sweeny (editor) and Peter Deming (director of photography) are all present on this one, and by this point, they have become astonishingly efficient at conveying the precise mood and idea that David is trying to accomplish. Despite the rather unconventional origin of this film, a failed ABC pilot for a series that has been reworked with additional footage shot later, it feels like a feature. Aside from a few distracting well-known actors in minor roles who vanish, obviously destined to show up later in the run of the series, there’s no indication that this is anything but a one-shot slice of surreal nightmare.

Naomi Watts is the star of the film, and in large part, how you feel about her work in the movie is going to determine how you feel about the movie as a whole. I think she’s great in it, particularly in an audition scene that manages to generate uncommon erotic heat. Lynch has an eye for the honeys, no doubt about it. As with TWIN PEAKS, he has filled MULHOLLAND with lush, unusual beauties, and in this film, it is the relationship between Canadian farmgirl Betty (Watts) and mysterious amnesiac “Rita” (Harring) that really fuels the story. Justin Theroux does some very interesting work as Adam Kesher, a hot young Hollywood director who is forced to cast a particular girl as the lead in his film. When he tries to refuse, ruin falls on him like a plague, and he is offered one chance to change his mind and get his life back. His story wraps around the story of Betty and Rita and a handbag full of money and a blue key and a strange club called Silencio, but there’s no mistaking which story is most important.

Betty and Rita start to unravel the mystery of who Rita is and why she was in a car on Mulholland Drive that was in an accident, and the more they dig at the story, the less traditional sense the film makes. Finally, there comes a moment that is like a psychotic break, a complete narrative flip that turns each role inside out. Suddenly, actors are playing different roles. We’re following someone who should be dead. And it all somehow relates to the opening images of dancing, and someone putting their head down on a pillow. I found the movie intensely frightening for reasons I’m not sure I can articulate. Lynch seems to be able to recreate the way nightmares really feel, the strange lack of discernible logic that somehow still makes emotional sense. And this film is nothing if it is not emotional. At the club Silencio, a woman performs a Spanish language version of Roy Orbison’s “Crying” that is just devastating. It’s not played for laughs at all, or just for the sake of being weird. It’s an emotional ephiphany for these characters, and I have my theory why. I won’t tell you what it is because I don’t want to rob you of the sense of build-up and pay-off that I enjoyed so much in the movie.

In many ways, Lynch seems to have made a film about that desire to be a movie star that draws people to LA every day and then destroys so many of them. It’s a cautionary tale about the price of fame, the loss of identity that comes with being famous and desired, and the compromises that enable that sort of fame. But you could watch this without once thinking of any of that, and you’d still see something fascinating and hypnotic. Such is the power of Lynch’s art. I do not recommend this film for all audiences, but if you have any sort of interest in Lynch and his work, this is a must-see, another dark poem by one of cinema’s most eclectic voices.

"Moriarty" out.

Readers Talkback
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  • Oct. 12, 2001, 9:55 a.m. CST

    David Lynch

    by Frank Black

    Everytime David Lynch finishes a film, the anticapation builds to a fever pitch, and is never an unsatisfying experience. This will be no exception. Love his work or hate it, he is a true artist. More movies please, Mr. Lynch.

  • Oct. 12, 2001, 10:39 a.m. CST

    i agree...

    by Jor-El's son

    Read Roger Ebert's review of Mulholland Drive- it's well written. Also- boycott Iron Monkey!!!!

  • Oct. 12, 2001, 10:49 a.m. CST

    iron f'n monkey

    by cameron fry

    Moriarty jerks off to Iron Monkey but dismisses My First Mister with an oh so witty comment about needing a nap? I'm gonna start getting my movie info from a different sight- not one that has been bought off by Miramax.

  • Oct. 12, 2001, 11:34 a.m. CST


    by CancerStick

    YES! I love sellouts!

  • Oct. 12, 2001, 11:37 a.m. CST

    Sheesh, guys...

    by Dagan

    Boycott Iron Monkey because of a POP UP AD??? Uh, no - it's really no big deal. You could do what i did, just click it off, or you can download some pop-up blocking software easily on the web - probably should, too, since pop ups are so prevalent these days. It's really no big deal, and whether you liked the pop-ups or not, Yuen Woo-Ping and Donnie Yen had nothing to do with it, and calling for a boycott of this film is just punishing them, not Miramax - this film is nothing for Miramax - a negative pickup, very little overhead. But if it does well, we may get more foreign films in their original language, from Hong Kong and elsewhere - supporting cool movies from other places can enhance our moviegoing here - all you guys are talking about boycotts while out of the other side of your mouths, you're blasting the films that have been released this year(rightly so), and bemoaning the fact that there hasn't been a good "popcorn movie" or kickass film to come out in mainstream theaters in a LOONNG time - well, HERE IT IS! Iron Monkey is about as kickass an action movie as you're gonna see - it's great fun and just a very cool time at the movies. And it's no doubt in theaters near you - here's your chance, an actual good film so we can all get a break from the shit-pounding we've been getting from the major studios this year. I'm not happy about the cuts and the music change, but still, it's Iron Monkey on the big screen. No ill-placed pop up is gonna keep me from that... A great movie for ME to have fun with AND a possible gateway, if it does well, for a whole flood of the coolest films from elsewhere IN THEIR ORIGINAL LANGUAGE... That can only be a good thing, as it will expand our palate and give us a choice, and it will mean more good movies in the theaters for us to see. Only good can come out of people seeing Iron Monkey, and if you're a film fan, you should be bringing people out to this film in force - for your sake now(the movie), and the future(future cool movies). I can't wait to see Iron Monkey on the big screen for the first time...

  • Oct. 12, 2001, 12:10 p.m. CST


    by Jor-El's son

    has Mirimax bought you off too?

  • Oct. 12, 2001, 12:27 p.m. CST

    Harry Here: Re: Jorel's Son


    Ya know, this is just plain getting stupid. If you've been reading this site for at least 4 years, WELL BEFORE MIRAMAX EVEN HAD THE RIGHTS TO IRON MONKEY, you would know that I've been a fan of this film for YEARS!!! If you were at all an educated fan of Kung Fu flicks, you'd know that it is considered the absolute best of the 'wire-fu' genre, and that its action is simply some of the best ever shot in the history of film. AND noone needs to pay anyone to spread the word about this flick because IT KICKS FUCKING ASS! If you don't see this on the big screen then you are only hurting one person... YOU. This movie was made to be seen big, there's so much going on in the frame that you have to see it on the big screen. And if you boycott it over a fucking pop up ad, you're a damn retard and half-assed film geek, cause anyone with a love of Hong Kong flicks will be there with bells on... ok, maybe not bells, but they'll be there.

  • Oct. 12, 2001, 1:52 p.m. CST

    sorry harry....

    by Jor-El's son

    damn.....I can't believe I got in trouble....just like in third grade with the Sloppy Joe incident....

  • Oct. 12, 2001, 2:33 p.m. CST

    I've griped about popups here many times but...

    by Darth TJ Mackey

    I appreciate the fact that the AICN staff seem to listen to the complaints which have merit and do something about them. Netscape users (including myself) had trouble seeing the site got fixed. We griped en masse about the Iron Monkey was removed. So: Harry and crew, thanks. Besides, if I were to boycott based on those cover-the-front-page ads I would have missed not only Iron Monkey but Band of Brothers as well (remember the bombers flying across the page, making navigation impossible?)...

  • Oct. 12, 2001, 5:25 p.m. CST

    by testicleez

    i actually had visions of myself sitting in the theater watching iron monkey until...damn...crouching tiger hidden dragon completely killed it 4 me. i may never watch another rendition of old asian settings matched w/ kung fu and the likes. i mean was i the only one that thought that crouching tiger hidden dragon didnt deserve any of the fanaticism it gained and critical acclaim. the movie was fuckin horrible!! i mean first off...the fight scenes were pretty cool, but then they were completely killed by the running up walls and trees and jumping/flying fx. those were some of the most lazy and fake special fx ive seen in years. then there was the story. what story?? i watched it in english and subtitles and it told nowhere near a tangible story. it could have been a cool premise if it relied solely on its fight scenes. instead they tried 2 incorporate a romance story in there somewhere. and thats exactly y i am squeamish about seeing iron monkey. no fucking thank u. one of the greatest movies of our time my asshole. and one more thing...i hope ang lee reads this and realizes that there r people out there who noticed how bad that movie really was and if he decides 2 fuck up the incredible hulk movie w/ horrible fx and fight scenes, he will surely pay 4 his stupidity. harry u rule.

  • Y'know testicleez, I've always wondered, is ignorance actually bliss?-----------Yeh. There's no reason to boycott Iron Monkey people. But thyere is a good reason not to go see it. It's shit. Well, perhaps it only seemed that way because I saw it in pan-scan. Perhaps it's worth a rental later to see it in widescreen. But I am so very sceptical.

  • Oct. 13, 2001, 11:33 a.m. CST

    Sold out??

    by gryphon

    Excuse me while I laugh. Yes it's easy to think that people on this site have sold out, especially with Harry's jizzing over certain movies, but with Iron Monkey this definitely isn't the case. This movie is about 8 years old, and any martial arts fan in the U.S. would cream their pants to finally see a good clean version of it on the big screen. Damn you geeks, don't mess with a classic!

  • Oct. 13, 2001, 8:12 p.m. CST

    Actually saw films both this weekend

    by otis von zipper

    Both Iron Monkey and Mulholland Dr. were great movie going experiences. I'm no Hong Kong martial arts film expert, but Monkey had some of the most thrilling fight scenes I've ever watched and is filled with great characters. And all I have to say about the new David Lynch movie is to just go see it. You won't know what it all means, but that's part of the fun. Mulholland is similar to Lost Highway, but the ideas work much better here for me.

  • Oct. 14, 2001, 7 a.m. CST

    Mullholland Drive

    by UselessBastard

    ACK! If Mullholland Drive is anything like Lost Highway, I would rather have a racoon with a nervous condition give me a vasectomy. Dune is the only David Lynch movie I can watch without wishing for someone to kill me to end the pain. For those who say I have no taste in film because I don't care for David Lynch...I don't care.

  • Oct. 14, 2001, 7:05 a.m. CST

    Muholland Drive just made miss mariah more MENTAL but in a GOOD

    by MentallyMariah

    I snuck out today early in the morning to catch the first showing of Muholland Dr. I left my medication at home, and thank god for that, because the movie spun me into a Freaky Trippy Paxel on Crack mixed with Xanax and Boones Farm buzz that left me twisting my mind into Ben and Jerry's 2 Twisted S.N.A.F.U, it's four in the morning and I finally have gave up on trying to figure out Muholland, I have decided for my own sanity that Muholland never happened, It was all a Crazy Dream laced by David Lynch Madness, and now my Rainbows are Flourescent Black. Basically kids: I loved Muholland Dr. Go see it, and leave your meds at home!

  • Oct. 14, 2001, 7:10 a.m. CST

    Oh by the way, I have already used up the two L's in my name

    by MentallyMariah

    Lets say it together in unison my little lamborees, ready.... "MOOO---HOLLAND" Good night and sweet dreams...I am going to have nightmares myself about that movie! The last scene when Betty aka Diane aka who the fuck knows almost sent me over the edge again! It was purely Chilling! Please avoid this at all cost if you are not a David Lynch Fan...because trust me, It will make you crazy!

  • Oct. 14, 2001, 12:02 p.m. CST

    Read Stephen Holden for M.D.

    by LittleChandler

    Of all the reviews I've read, Stephen Holden's (ny times) is by far the best. Roger Ebert's just barely skims the surface and he even gets one fact glaringly wrong! It's Betty who "becomes" Diane Selwyn, not Rita. Rita becomes Camilla. Holden really gets it, I think. He talks about how the film is really about how Hollywood manipualtes the "dream life of the culture." If you need to have things clearly defined, you could look at the first 2/3 as fantasy and the last 1/3 as cruel reality, but I think it's a little more complicated than that. Two sides of the same coin sort of thing. It's true that if you absolutley hate what Lynch does, you probably won't like it. But if you sort of liked Blue Velvet but didn't get Wild At Heart or Lost Highway, I highly reccommend it. I think it's far and away the best thing he's done. It will stay in your head for a long time. And that--the fact that movies stay in our heads become almost mythical--is ultimately what it's all about.

  • Oct. 14, 2001, 1:25 p.m. CST

    God damn ABC to hell!!!

    by The_Black_Hair

    Just saw Mulholland Drive last night. Being a die hard Lynch fanatic, it was a slam dunk for me. Lynch is a genius, I don't care what anyone says. But I was cursed by the knowledge that this was originally a pilot for a TV show. It's pretty obvious where the TV show left off and the "let's complete it as a feature" began. The TV portion would have been as fine a product as network television has offered since... well... Twin Peaks (is my bias showing here?). I just have to let go of the fact that I won't be able to spend hours in MD's dreamy Lynchland. So don't waste your mind boycotting "Iron Monkey" (it kicks ass), boycott ABC. Freekin gutless bastards!

  • Oct. 15, 2001, 10:18 a.m. CST

    I agree with Moriarty.....

    by Purple Toupee

    Lost Highway was frightening. While watching it, I was on the edge of my seat the whole time, and I thought it was SCARY--and sometimes, I didn't even know why. Then, the images of the rotting corpse were probably the most terrifying images I have seen in a film. Though, I must say, the whole scene where the hit man keeps fumbling up his job was grotesquely hysterical--only Lynch could make a murder scene that funny ("Something really big just bit me!"). Go see this movie!!!! I already want to go out and rent Lost Highway again.

  • Oct. 23, 2001, 9:35 a.m. CST


    by ALF

    What a wonderful film. And what a wonderful (and no doubt rather different) series it would have made. But of course, it probably would have been cancelled midway through the first season so maybe this was the only way it was ever going to be possible to see this vision as a Complete Story.

  • Oct. 23, 2001, 9:37 a.m. CST


    by ALF

    I sure would appreciate a link to a good pop-up, pop-under, pop-goes-the-weasel blocking software program.