Did you know Dev Patel has had a black belt since he was 16 years old? You probably will now after watching the first trailer for Monkey Man, a new gritty action spectacle which also happens to mark The Green Knight star’s directorial debut.
Indeed, the British born actor has enjoyed a respected career since his teenage years, beginning with the one-two punch of the TV series Skins in 2007 and the Oscar-winning Slumdog Millionaire the year afterward. Both were impressive debuts that helped paved the way to an eclectic career which has included roles in movies like The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel, Hotel Mumbai, The Personal History of David Copperfield, and Lion, the last of which earned Patel an Oscar nomination.
Yet it is intriguing to see Patel step behind the camera for the first time and reveal some of the type of movies that interest him—and others. After all, Monkey Man has the support of no less than Jordan Peele, with Peele’s Monkeypaw Productions producing the picture alongside Universal Pictures.
The details of Monkey Man remain vague other than it seems to take some inspiration from the legend of Hanuman, a white monkey god who appears in the ancient Sanskrit text of Ramayana. There, Hanuman commands a monkey army and helps Prince Rama rescue his wife Princess Sita from the clutches of an evil ogre. Monkey Man is therefore a likely loose adaptation of the story, as we know it follows an ex-felon in India (Patel) who struggles to make his way through an underworld marred by crime, corruption, and corporate greed. Yeah, that sounds a might bit scarier than an evil ogre these days.
The main draw for viewers of the trailer, however, will probably be Patel’s martial arts skills. With a gritty setting and heightened physical violence, Monkey Man looks like it might sit comfortably alongside recent unlikely B-action epics like Keanu Reeves’ John Wick series or Bob Odenkirk in Nobody. But unlike in those films, Monkey Man stars a legit martial artist. Before transitioning to acting, Patel trained with the Rayners Lane Academy of Taekwondo. He eventually competed in both national and international championships, earning a bronze medal at the Action International Martial Arts Association World Championships in 2004. And that was when he was just a red belt—he gained the black one later.
Seeing Patel bring that physicality to the screen in such a visceral way for the first time could prove a treat. The film also stars Shallot Copley (whom Patel worked with on Chappie), Pitobash, and Sobhita Dhulipala. Patel also worked on the screenplay with Paul Angunawela and John Collee.
Monkey Man opens in theaters on April 5.