Life & Culture

A fast, furious and justifiably gory revenge flick

Dev Patel’s directorial debut about India’s criminal underground is underpinned by a moral cause


Masked emotions: the Kid in Dev Patel's directorial debut Monkey Man

Monkey Man


Reviewed by John Nathan

You like John Wick?” asks a gun dealer from India’s criminal underground. The question is directed at Dev Patel’s anonymously named Kid, the action hero at the centre of the star’s latest film which is also his directorial debut.

Whatever Kid’s view on the fight-fest franchise that is John Wick, Patel is clearly an admirer.

The close combat is satisfyingly fast, furious and gory. But whereas the trump card of the Wick films is that it offers no excuses for the violence it glorifies it seems that Patel prefers his to be underpinned by a moral cause.

This imperative is explained through flashbacks while Kid ekes a living fighting in an unlicensed bare-knuckle boxing dive where his job is to lose to the baying hordes’ favoured combatants. The more Kid bleeds the more he is paid. The flashbacks take us to his childhood in the jungle and walks with his mother through dappled sunlight as she tells him the tale of Hanuman, a Hindu god who appears as half-human and half-monkey, hence the monkey mask Kid wears in the ring.

Because Patel’s film compares itself to John Wick it is worth dwelling on the characters’ respective motives for notching up staggering kill counts. Kid’s we learn is connected to the way his idyllic childhood ended when his village was violently destroyed by a corrupt cop who then raped and murdered his mother. In John Wick’s case someone killed his puppy.

Monkey Man therefore lacks the honesty of John Wick which is that people like Kid and Wick do what they do because they are so damn good at it. Patel’s need for his hero to be liked is another diminishing factor.

However, the positives involve a Rocky-like training scene set to the rhythms of bangla drums and in a temple populated by members of India’s transgender hiraj community. They pitch up in glittery whirling dresses to give Kid the army he needs to avenge his mother, while also fighting for India’s oppressed minorities. What a guy.

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