‘Monkey Man’ Stomps Into SXSW As Dev Patel Gets Standing Ovation At World Premiere

Universal’s bender of a weekend continued past Oscars into Monday night with the enthusiastic SXSW premiere of Monkeypaw’s Monkey Man, the feature directing debut of Dev Patel, which blew the roof off Austin’s Paramount Theatre.

SXSW isn’t known for giving standing ovations, but Patel — the movie’s director, producer, writer and action star — got a well-deserved one for his bloodied portrayal of a young man avenging his mother’s death from a crooked cop.

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Jordan Peele was on hand to introduce Patel ahead of the screening.

Dev Patel
Dev Patel

“This is a film that simply demands to be seen in a theater with a huge rockstar audience,” said Peele, who after seeing the movie pivoted to his theatrical output deal at Universal after Monkey Man was originally set up at Netflix, which took the film’s global rights for $30 million. Now it has a big-screen release set for April 5.

“I’ve never seen someone pour his heart, soul, body, mind and energy into a film, into a story more than this man,” exclaimed Peele about Patel.

Taking the stage before the screening, Patel described the long journey for the film. “People thought I went crazy. I’ve been away for a while. I was reading all these things on the internet … ‘Where Are They Now?’ ‘What Happened to Him?'”

“I’m not really fit for public consumption right now, I’ve been in a dark room, the paint is literally not dry on this thing,” the multihyphenate continued.

“I did a little film where I was just as awkward as I am now — it’s called Slumdog Millionaire. That film was discarded because people underestimated you guys, basically,” Patel told the audience.

“And the same thing happened here. I put everything into this, I shot this film in the biggest slum in India, Covid hit, and the film went down. Everything that could have gone wrong, went wrong. And then Jordan came along in the end, he picked up from the ground, he brushed the dust off and put it on the mantel piece.”

The movie, based on the Hindu deity Hanuman, was inspired by Patel’s love of Bruce Lee movies, Korean movies, Bollywood titles and tales his grandfather told him as a child.

“I snuck downstairs when I was a little kid, and I watched Bruce Lee on screen through the banister in Enter the Dragon,” he said. “I’d never seen anyone who looked slightly like me before and this guy had the same pigment as me, and from that day on, I fell in love with action movies.”

“I think the action genre has sometimes been abused by the system,” said Patel. “I wanted to give it real soul, real trauma, real pain and you guys deserve that. And I wanted to infuse it with a little bit of culture.”

Monkey Man follows one man’s quest for vengeance against the corrupt leaders who murdered his mother and continue to systemically victimize the poor and powerless. The India-set pic is inspired by the legend of Hanuman, an icon embodying strength and courage. Patel plays the Kid, an anonymous young man who ekes out a meager living in an underground fight club where, night after night, wearing a gorilla mask, he is beaten bloody by more popular fighters for cash.

“What you’re going to see is a guy who doesn’t have a quip for every scenario, isn’t the heftiest dude in the room, and doesn’t look like he’s going to win. Because he’s an underdog. And that’s what I’ve felt like my whole f*cking life,” said the filmmaker.

“Basically, this is a story about an underdog, being helped by a whole other load of underdogs to realize their true power collectively.”

Patel shot the movie against all obstacles during Covid. He even lost his gaffer during production from a heart attack. Patel broke his foot two weeks before shooting, and during filming, broke his hand, too. “You can see in the film, there’s a wrap on my hand,” said Patel indicating the cameo of his injured hand. He even did a kitchen fight scene, one-handed.

Not only did Uni have the Oscar Best Picture winner in Oppenheimer on Sunday, but a big No. 1 film opening in Kung Fu Panda 4 ($58 million), and now the first of two big premieres at SXSW. On Tuesday night, the studio will unveil its summer blast-off movie Fall Guy, with Ryan Gosling and Emily Blunt.

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