Dev Patel is directing a movie. The young actor, known for Slumdog Millionaire and Lion, is set to helm an “action revenge” film with Indian mythological elements. Patel will also star in the film and has producer and co-writer credits as well, implying that this may be a passion project for the Oscar nominee.
As an avid mythology nerd and genre movie fan, I had my interest piqued by the brief summary given by The Hollywood Reporter:
“Steeped in mythology, the film will be set in a vibrant modern India and will follow the Kid (Patel), who emerges from prison to take on a world awash in corporate greed and eroding spiritual values.”
That summary and the title Monkey Man imply a story and setting ripe for a “trickster archetype” story, like that of Hanuman, the Hindu monkey deity. I find it likely that Hanuman will make an appearance of some sort in this film, either as a character or as a heroic theme or analogue running throughout the story. Even better, the film is stated to be an action movie, and Hanuman is a noted mythological badass. Personally, I’m hoping for some fight choreography and traditional martial arts.
Hanuman is a “half-ape” deity in Hinduism who makes cameo appearances in Buddhism and Jainism. His most prominent appearance in narrative myth is probably as Rama’s friend and ally in the Hindu epic story Ramayana. While Hanuman’s role in this story is relatively minor, taking a passenger seat to Rama himself, his part showcases all his wild powers and trickster’s personality. He sneaks into the enemy stronghold and meets with a kidnap victim, offering to rescue her, but when she refuses (traditional heroism, values, beliefs; let it slide), he instead lets himself get captured, pulls a prank on his torturers with some fun monkey powers, and then trashes the entire enemy city for fun.
Hanuman is the source of a lot of trickster myths throughout the world, mostly in Southeast Asia (would you believe me if I said it was because East Asian versions get yellow-washed?), and celebrations of Hanuman typically involve his martial arts expertise. It is commonly accepted by scholars that Sun Wukong (aka the Monkey King) of Chinese literary fame is based on Hanuman, and I think that kind of action character has the potential to be cool, especially when we’re becoming saturated in superhero battles with a lot of punching.
These mythological “Monkey Men” are known for their methodical, infiltration-based ways of accomplishing their objectives, and while they can duke it out in a fistfight when they feel like it, typically they outsmart their adversaries instead of overpowering them, and I think this kind of hero is underrated in our modern action movie age. Instead of being a guy who’s so cool that he rides a motorcycle at freeway speeds with no helmet on, our action hero, in this case, is more of a lovable rogue, like Lupin III or Scott Lang.
It’s impossible to talk about this movie without talking about Hotel Mumbai, a movie starring Patel that premiered at the Toronto International Film Festival just two months ago. Hotel Mumbai is also a more action-oriented thriller, in contrast with Patel’s previous roles, which tended more towards the dramatic. Perhaps it was Hotel Mumbai that got Patel interested in the genre? Regardless, the announced slate of producers includes three people who also worked on Hotel Mumbai: Joe Thomas, Samarth Sahni, and Patel himself. So, I imagine the creative direction of Monkey Man will be similar.
In fact, the film’s creative team is stacked with people known for great action movies. The fourth producer, Basil Iwanyk, previously worked on John Wick and Sicario, and the camera department is taking on international talent, signing on Chung-hoon Chung of The Handmaiden and Oldboy fame as the director of photography. Action sequences are set to be choreographed by 87Eleven Action Design, a dedicated stunt studio that worked on the John Wick franchise and Atomic Blonde.
With such a star-studded team, action movie fans should keep an eye out for this one. I am interested to see the direction that a Hanuman-inspired action film will take. Asian folklore and mythology can provide sources for many kinds of fun stories, and Patel is a great lead for this kind of project. He doesn’t really come off as a strong-man type action hero (he’s no Dwayne Johnson), and I think a trickster would be a great match for him. Martial arts films are becoming rarer and rarer, so I’m on the edge of my seat for this one if it’s got a chance of being one.