10 Apr 2024

At The Movies - Monkey Man

From At The Movies, 7:00 pm on 10 April 2024

Dev Patel is best known for playing nice chaps in Slumdog MillionaireThe Best Exotic Marigold Hotel and Lion.

Who knew he wanted to write, direct and star in a ferocious revenge movie like Monkey Man?

Monkey Man has been a long time coming, apparently - ever since Patel got a black belt in tae kwan do.

His plan was to make a martial arts film that blends the visceral violence of Korean films with the spirituality of Bollywood.

This is hardly my wheelhouse, so I have no idea whether Monkey Man is what he wanted to make. I can only tell you what I saw.

It opens on our unnamed hero, the Kid, as a kid, with his mother telling him bedtime stories about Demon Kings and heroic White Monkeys.

Mum's idea of a soothing story isn't mine.

We flash forward 20 years or so where the Kid works as a stooge at a backstreet fight club, wearing a monkey mask. His job is losing fights to make his opponents look good, but he has aspirations. He wants a better job - one that will get him closer to his enemies.

He's now got a job - first washing dishes, then waiting tables. And he keeps getting into fights - and losing - with the gangsters who run this town.

This is Slumdog territory, where the rich own everything and the poor are nothing. And leading the rich are a sinister Guru - a sort of Indian TV evangelist - a corrupt Cop, dishing out the beatings, and a shadowy Politician being pushed into high places.

Do you want more backstory?

No, the audience for a blood-red-poster film like Monkey Man doesn't need much more than this. They want action, but not just scenes of the Kid being beaten up in a wrestling ring.

Clearly, before anything improves, he's going to need to sharpen up his act - and possibly dye his monkey mask a fetching shade of white.

You're right, he's gonna need a montage - though where Monkey Man's montage differs from the standard, hair-metal number in this sort of film is it uses the rapid-fire beats of Indian tablas to sharpen him up.

And when finally Dev Patel, the tae kwan do expert and first-time director, steps up to the plate, the action scenes are undeniably impressive.

Particularly a fight in a kitchen with knives, guns, broken bottles and frying pans all vying with each other for maximum impact.

Behind the fights there's rather less going on - though lack of depth hasn't hurt the John Wick movies, the obvious role model for Monkey Man.

Once in a while, a supporting character makes a brief appearance, like Sharlto Copley as the fight club MC, or the amusing Alphonso and his tiny car.

Equally wasted is Sita the nightclub hostess who you keep hoping will be more than just someone the Kid rescues now and again.

Mind you, even the dastardly bad guys tend to be crowded out by ever-more frequent fight scenes.

Are fight scenes enough in a modern-day action movie? A couple of years ago, I'd have said no, you need someone to be interested in, not just someone with a grudge. But clearly, I'm not exactly a Monkey Man.

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