Monkey Enters Lanka
14 Jan 2022
Dhvel Patel, Carmen Rain Lykoo, Saie S Surendra
“The world’s fastest growing crime is abduction and human trafficking.” Saie Surendra’s award-winning short film opens with this sobering fact. It prepares the audience for a dark, realistic look at the crime before launching into a retelling of a section of the Sanskrit epic Rāmāyanam. In fact, the credits reveal that this was only one of six inspirations. Surendra acknowledges at the film’s opening that this story has been told many times, and as such his version may not be the one we have heard before. The story of Hanuman, the formidable simian disciple of the great Lord Rama, exists in many forms. Shades of Wu Cheng’en’s Journey to the West, another inspiration here, can be found in Akira Toriyama’s manga Dragon Ball.
In this version, Hanuman (voiced by Surendra) has been tasked with tracking down Sita (Carmen Rain Lykoo), Rama’s beloved wife. Along with hundreds of women from across the world, Sita has been abducted by the tyrant Ravana (Dhvel Patel). His designs on Sita are clear, but Ravana has been cursed by a previous victim; if he tries to rape someone, he will burst into flames. As he attempts to convince Sita to submit to him and forget her husband, Hanuman lies in wait.
The most compelling aspect of the film is its combining of 3D animation and live action. Hanuman is entirely computer generated, as are much of the backgrounds and environments. The fight scenes get the same treatment. The human characters, meanwhile, are played by live actors (except when Hanuman needs opponents to quickly dispatch). Surendra oversaw the VFX, while the 3D environments were created by Nazar Daniyel, Pefro Roque, Victor Gomez, Hoang Nguyen and Kían Kreikamp. The decision is a fascinating one, and for the most part it works. Hanuman looks fittingly uncanny – he is of course a god among men – but while the humans he faces would be outmatched either way, it is a little disappointing to see fights won so easily, with no sense of danger for the protagonist. In any case, Monkey Enters Lanka won the Best VFX award at Best Istanbul Film Festival and Anatolia International Film Festival, as well as Best Experimental Film at Screen Power Film Festival in London.
Unfortunately, the film struggles in other technical aspects. There are moments when, despite the heavily rendered 3D environments, it is abundantly clear that scenes were shot outside; the microphone picks up wind sounds easily, muffling the characters’ words. Andrii Brynzak’s music, while suitably rousing, plays too loudly in some dialogue scenes. It must be said, though, that the singers – from the Chinese lead Jennifer Ong to the choir – are fantastic. The acting throughout is fittingly melodramatic, though the film’s message seems somewhat unclear. The curse placed upon Ravana is not fully explored, but the film appears to suggest that simply ‘submitting’ to someone is the same as giving consent. Surely Ravana would still burst into flames even if Sita didn’t fight back? In addition, Rama (who we briefly see towards the film’s end) is viewed by Sita and the other women as an example of what a man should be. However, she explains to Ravana that while he sees women as ‘objects’, Rama sees them as ‘goddesses’. The problem here is that, either way, women end up objectified. Sita and the other women are either viewed as objects for Ravana’s sexual pleasure, or as untouchable, divine beings; and in both cases, their personalities and agency are secondary at best.
Monkey Enters Lanka takes inspiration from many classic tales. Saie Surendra has updated the medium but, unfortunately, not the message.