Screener Review: HANUMAN: YEAR OF THE MONKEY (2015)

Director Jimmy Henderson is helping greatly to pave the way for the action genre in Cambodia. His most recent Khmer-language thriller, Hanuman: Year Of The Monkey, released locally back in February as this, his first foray into the martial arts action hybridized with a superhero as its centerpiece, and with this, comes a notable effort for a film not without its flaws, but makes an effort with admiring and appreciating for action fans.

Dara Our leads the film as Vicheat, who goes estray from his brother Srong after witnessing the death of their father at the hands of local crime boss Kim Veng and his men. Vicheat is taken into a secluded village where he lives for the next twelve years as his caretaker teaches him how to fight, and by the end of that period, leaves to go back and find Srong once more, now a devoted cop and family man, and alas, in the middle of tracking Kim Veng who has since ascended with his criminal organization of drugs and prostitution.

Vicheat decides to take what he's learned to apply his own brand of justice with a monkey mask constructed by his master before his ailing, and implements swift justice using his newfound martial arts skills to take out Veng's men one by one. However, it's not too long before Veng grows closer to learning who he is as the past catches up, and with Srong's family now in danger, it's up to both brothers in an effort led by Vicheat to rescue Srong's family and finally close a chapter of their lives written forever in blood and vengeance, and in the wake of it all, a new symbol of justice.

Hanuman: Year Of The Monkey is just the kind of film that comes with the great era we've seen in the last several years focused on some amazing martial arts movies coming out of Asia. The first act of the film is mostly drama centric as the exposition of the film focuses on the roles of Srong and Vicheat as children. Most of the acting performances, in sum, are a little underwhelming with just a few compelling scenes from the start of the film up to after the twenty minute mark when things finally move forward.

A lot of the acting isn't hugely watchable thereafter either, although some of the key performances do serve their purpose, with Our joined by co-stars, actor Sopheakmith Ung and actress Ma Rynet who play the married brother to wife Sophea, along with Rous Mony who plays Vannak, Srong's friend and the one character whose moral quandry proves pivotal by the end. Actor Phillip Savin does great as Veng in keeping the film going as the more seasoned thesp among the cast alongside actor Ma Chimmy who plays his thrill-seeking son, Phirun, where the story continues to add a few more layers and intriguing subplots.

The action sequences were choreographed introducing the ancient martial art of Bokator to the film fray, and it serves the film righteously in tapping into the action base in the wake of films like Indonesian hits, Merantau and The Raid. The fight action doesn't feel at all contrived and is shot and performed pretty well with Our front and center, with a few neat moments that keep things lively.

Hanuman: Year Of The Monkey follows a formula similar to that of other films of its kind with an underdog protagonist who rises back and with his entry and prevails. Some will look at this with a tilted head in some capacity, while it's worth stating that the film is far from perfect. It's a low budget production which suffers from time to time and there are plenty moments that feel a little too drawn out which may make some of the more contemplative scenes feel lagging, in addition to some of the more vague, unexplained motivations for a few key characters. That stated, I can honestly add that this doesn't fully cripple the film's overall redeemability.

Henderson and co-scribe Michael Hodgson tell a gritty and dark story with an otherwise meaningful protagonist taking on some truly virulent characters. This coupled with the presence of a few personas who will ultimately represent the necessary shades of grey for our hero to prevail against the more evil odds, and you have a story that is quite substantive in nature, with good action and gruesome death scenes to boot, including one involving a not-so-sanitary bathroom. Talk about a hell of a way to go.

If you love martial arts action and drama with a vigilante twist, definitley take in Hanuman: Year Of The Monkey as a worthwhile film to enjoy on your day off. Despite its aforementioned shortcomings and coming especially from a writer and director just cutting his teeth in the martial arts film fray for a region of the world that could use a little extra light on its local talent, I wouldn't write this one off completely. Watch it when it heads your way, and also, watch it with an open mind, because there's more on the way from this crowd.


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