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Monkey Man

Universal Pictures, 2024

Director/Writer:

Dev Patel

Reading Time:

5 minutes

Monkey ManWicked Cinema
00:00 / 05:07

📷 : Used with permission, Ryan Keeble

Monkey Man

Rosemary:

Image of movie's tea brew

Movies and TV shows with intense action

Dandelion:

Image of movie's tea brew

Movies and TV shows with heavy subjects

Chris Chaisson

2024-04-05

“It’s time to remember who you are.”


At one point in time in the late ‘80s, Arnold Schwarzenegger got tired of being a successful bodybuilder and successful action star (tough life). He wanted to prove that he could be funny as well, a sentiment he voiced to the director of Twins, Ivan Reitman. Arnold was so confident in his yuck-yuck ability that he declined to be paid for his role in the 1987 hit, instead taking ownership of the movie. If it flopped, he would go home penniless. If it succeeded, he’d get a cut. This anecdote illustrates not only the importance of believing in yourself, but to show your versatility, you may have to take a DIY approach. In order to star in his first true martial arts action role, Dev Patel took a page out of Schwarzenegger’s book by writing and directing the new revenge flick, Monkey Man


Monkey Man revolves around its anonymous title character (Patel), a young man who participates in an underground fight club while donning a monkey mask. He loses intentionally and violently in order to get his cut from the promoter while seeking income elsewhere during the day. After catching on at a high-end restaurant, he comes face-to-face with a man from his past: the ruthless tyrant who murdered his family and tore apart his village. Once his first attempt on the man’s life fails, the protagonist recovers and trains in order to enact vengeance on all of the political leaders involved in his childhood trauma.


On the surface, Patel’s directorial debut does not create any never-before-seen angle on the action genre or revenge tales specifically. In fact, it wears its influences on its sleeve, from the color schemes to the costumes to the point-of-view style action scenes. You do not have to be the biggest fan of martial arts films to recognize where the mix of styles comes from, including the John Wick and Bourne franchises with a little Tarantino sprinkled in. In the week leading up to Monkey Man’s release, Patel stated on The Tonight Show with Jimmy Fallon that Bruce Lee films introduced him to the world of cinema, and Patel’s mannerisms in the final showdown are a subtle yet clear nod to the martial arts legend.


Despite all of its influences, the most important addition Patel provides is casting himself as the leading man. While we’ve seen our fair share of action stars from east Asia, martial arts protagonists of Indian descent have been rare or non-existent outside of Bollywood. To see Patel going toe-to-toe with menacing bad guys was a refreshing twist, especially after a filmography consisting of more cerebral characters (The Newsroom) or being occasionally shrouded in chain mail. Patel not only shows personal range here but expands the scope of who can be an action star. His mere presence in the lead role highlights that “action hero” is not limited to any gender, ethnicity, or group of ethnicities.


Furthermore, Monkey Man is set in a fictional city in India and includes a predominantly Indian cast. Though very little Hindi is spoken, the film does include other cultural elements, such as currency, attire and class differences, without making a spectacle out of them. Hollywood action films set outside the U.S. can often take place in a vacuum of sorts, where everything unique about the location is pushed far into the background or depicted in mocking fashion. With Patel directing and starring, along with Jordan Peele producing, Monkey Man maintains a certain authenticity that many other films do not prioritize.


To be clear, Patel’s debut goes about as dark as it can. It is not nearly as light-hearted or quirky as Kill Bill or other more humorous revenge tales. Nonetheless, he gives a little wink to the audience with the occasional misstep of his character, feeling for just a moment like past characters that he has taken on. In one scene, he tries to escape by jumping through a window and fails rather decisively. While there are at best a handful of moments like this, they, along with a carefully placed Rick Ross jingle, offer the audience just enough chuckles to make the overall darkness work.


As said before, Monkey Man does not go to great lengths to hide its influences. The most direct comparison, however, would seem to be the 2003 Park Chan-wook masterpiece Oldboy. The lead in Oldboy is held captive in a cell for 15 years without knowing his kidnapper and seeks vengeance upon escaping. While Patel’s character is physically free, he remains imprisoned mentally by the events of his past and the violent losses of his loved ones. Neither film is for the squeamish, but if you are a fan of great fight choreography, it is tough to pass on either one of these revenge thrillers.

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