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  • Writer's pictureBen Turner

Monkey Man ***

Starring: Dev Patel, Sharlto Copley, Pitobash, Vipin Sharma, Sikander Kher, Makarand Deshpande 

Director: Dev Patel

Country: USA

UK Distributor: Universal


Dev Patel (Slumdog Millionnaire, Lion) stars in his own directorial debut, produced by Jordan Peele (Get Out, Nope). A revenge saga that follows a young man enacting vengeance on the corrupt leaders responsible for murdering his mother when he was a child, this is a fizzing miasma of energy and frantic ultraviolence.

Kid (Patel) earns a tiny wage by fighting in an underground boxing club in urban India, wearing a monkey mask in a nod to the stories of the Hindu god Hanuman told to him by his mother. Murdered by a corrupt police chief (Kher) on the orders of a spiritual guru (Deshpande), her now grown son has left his forest village to pursue those responsible for her death. Taking a low-paid job in a brothel the former frequents, he hides in plain sight as he infiltrates the dark side of the policeman’s life. But once his plan only partially succeeds, he is forced to recuperate in a community of hijra.

This depiction of India’s trans community – who are known as the equivalent of a “third sex” and have lived openly for thousands of years – is a landmark moment in cinema. Forming a significant part of the second part half of the narrative, they also come under threat from the same forces Kid is fighting against.

With extreme and crazed violence throughout, this has the feel of a martial arts film, or an Indian take on The Raid. Its constant onslaught of furious hand-to-hand combat feels very John Wick and there is clearly a thirsty and large audience for it. With Kid battling against a slurry of “bad guys”, this is two hours of intense fighting that has the air of an arcade game over a narrative movie. Yes there is plot, but it mostly sits in the background while it places duelling fists and visual acrobatics over the substance that comes behind it. Subsequently you find yourself back-pedalling at times, trying to cling on to the answer to “who is he fighting now and why?”.

Dev Patel has found a niche here, crossing over from actor’s actor into the mainstream. For a generation brought up on RPGs, this will feel like familiar territory, but for those looking for a little more finesse, this is a very loud and brash film that lacks the subtlety of a finer crafted work. It may nod heavily to the Oldboys of the Far East, but this is much more heavy-handed.


UK Release: Out now in cinemas, released by Universal

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