The New York Asian Film Festival (NYAFF) made their first announcement about their 2019 programming on Twitter and Facebook, and it is a biggie. Venerable Hong Kong action choreographer Yuen Woo-Ping will receive a lifetime achievement award at this year’s NYAFF, which runs from June 28th to July 14th. As part of the festival lineup, NYAFF will screen three of Yuen’s films: The Miracle Fighters (1982), Iron Monkey (1993), and his most recent movie Master Z: The Ip Man Legacy.
Other major Hong Kong stars honored by NYAFF in the past include Jackie Chan, Sammo Hung, Donnie Yen, and Jimmy Wang Yu.
Yuen’s choreography helped define the Hong Kong martial arts style of the late 1970s and beyond. Yuen reached international fame when the Wachowskis tapped him to do the fight choreography for The Matrix (1999). In the 20 years since, Yuen’s worked on Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon, Kill Bill, Kung Fu Hustle, and The Grandmaster. He’s collaborated with Jackie Chan, Sammo Hung, Donnie Yen, Yuen Biao, Jet Li, Michelle Yeoh, Stephen Chow, and countless other martial arts legends, including his own father, Yuen Siu-Tien (the old beggar from Snake in the Eagle’s Shadow and Drunken Master).
We’re still awaiting the full NYAFF schedule and lineup, which will hopefully be out soon. NYAFF is one of the largest showcases of Asian film in North America, and their programming is a fascinating blend of blockbusters, dramas, and idiosyncratic works from all over Asia. In the meantime, let’s look at the three Yuen Woo-Ping movies being screened.
Master Z: The Ip Man Legacy (2018)
Master Z follows Max Zhang’s character from Ip Man 3, and serves as a showcase for Zhang’s talents and Yuen’s action direction. While the first two Ip Man movies were choreographed by Sammo Hung, Yuen took over choreography duties in Ip Man 3. You can feel a different hand guiding the style of the action. Zhang’s had excellent fights in films like The Grandmaster and SPL II, but he’s never been the lead. He’s capable enough here, and I look forward to seeing what he’s in next. At 45 years old, it’s heartening to see Zhang get an opportunity to shine.
Iron Monkey (1993)
Iron Monkey is one of my favorite martial arts movies of all time. Essentially a pseudo-Wong Fei-Hung film, Iron Monkey centers around the titular Robin Hood-style hero (Ringo Yu) who teams up with Wong Fei-Hung’s dad Wong Kei-Ying (Donnie Yen) to fight bad guys. Classic 90s Hong Kong nuttiness ensues. Angie Tsang plays the young Wong Fei-Hung, and has a brief moment to shine. These young Wong Fei-Hung scenes feature overt nods to the Once Upon a Time in China series with Jet Li, which was three movies deep at the time.
If you can, watch the original Hong Kong version of the movie. The domestic Miramax release has a different score and sound effects, and they also cut out a shot in the climactic final fight, which leaves the scene feeling less badass.
The Miracle Fighters (1982)
Many of Yuen Woo-Ping’s directorial outings have a reputation for being both insane and unexpected. For example, Shaolin Drunkard (aka Taoism Drunkard) is an off-kilter action fantasy film with shades of Looney Tunes, and Mismatched Couples is an 80s-as-f**k Cantonese comedy that features a breakdancing Donnie Yen. I’ve never seen The Miracle Fighters, but based on the trailer above, I kind of need to see it right now. This looks bonkers in all the best ways.