Monga: A Taiwanese gangster movie

Monga (艋舺), directed by Niu Chen-zer (鈕承澤), is a classic gangster tale. The scene is set when Mosquito, played by Mark Chao (趙又廷), a new boy in the high school finds himself being picked on. His brave response catches the attention of Dragon, played by Rhydian Vaughan (鳳小岳), who is the son of Geta, the boss of the Temple Front. He is inducted into the gang and forms part of the group of five that also includes Monk, played by Ethan Ruan (阮經天). Monkey and Dog Boy complete the line up.

The film, set in Taipei’s Wanhua district in the 1980s, evokes a nostalgia for a not so distant past. It perhaps represents a time of innocence, a world on the cusp of old and new. This sets up the plot with outside gangs seeking to move in and change things, while the Temple Front resists change.

Mosquito has grown up without a father and looks up to Geta, played by Ma Ru-long (馬如龍), as a father figure. Xiaoning, played by Ke Jia-yan (柯佳嬿), is Mosquito’s love interest. However, she plays a fairly peripheral role. This is essentially a film about a male world of brotherhood and betrayal. There are quite a few fight scenes, some of which are quite violent. However, the real focus is on the relationships between the gang members.

Overall Monga is a well executed production that successfully builds dramatic tension and sympathy for the key protagonists. With the benefit of a wide opening Monga has already enjoyed success at the box office and will no doubt draw big crowds over the Lunar New Year holiday. It is an entertaining film and the audience will certainly enjoy it.

*The film has English subtitles in cinemas screening the non-digital version.

Links

 

“Monga” box office success feeds local tourism

 

12 thoughts on “Monga: A Taiwanese gangster movie

  1. Just saw the movie and we really liked it, except we called ahead to see if there were English subtitles – they told us there were. We got there, paid, went in, and there were no English subtitles!

    This would have been OK – one of our group is fluent in Chinese and my Chinese is pretty good – except that huge swaths of the movie are in Taiwanese and even the subtitles are in Taiwanese-Chinese characters (ie not Mandarin translations).

    So…uh. Great movie. I really enjoyed the first and last thirds. Very well-written and acted, very evocative and they get the details just right. I especially love how men’s fashion has clearly not changed since the 1980s – the same hideous patterned shirts, white undershirts and Chinese-style shirts prevail – and how gang leaders hold meetings in rooms with those fake leather sofas with white lace doilies on them. So totally Taiwan today. Love it.

    But the middle third – seeing as we couldn’t actually understand any of it beyond obvious tropes and visual scenes….I’ve never wished so much that a movie had MORE Chinese in it so I could get back with the plot.

  2. Jenna, sorry to hear about your experience with the subtitles. The staff at the cinema should be better informed. I am glad you still managed to enjoy the movie though.

  3. Well, the movie tells a story about this young boy (mosquito), and through this story to highlight the life of being a local (small size) gangsters in early 80s. He went in (or was roped in) to make friends and seek for protection (for himself and for others). But, at the end, he realised that, there was very little friendship (and trust) among themselves and indeed it was rather vulnerable in the gangster’s world. Also, there is no way out of it. Death is probably the only way out.

    A film with local favour and worth to watch.

  4. Yeah, they should, but one among us studied film so can follow almost any film just by following known storylines and tropes, and between us we could pick up enough Chinese and follow said tropes to get the main point, so we chose in the end to not make a big deal of it (but Broadway Theater in Gongguan, you have been warned)!

    I got a nasty anonymous comment on my own blog regarding my above posts (apparently thinking a black and white leopard print shirt with neon flowers on the back is hideous – said shirt being something one character in Monga briefly wore – is “racist”). Which is funny, I think – I never meant for it to be. Ugly shirts are ugly shirts regardless of who wears them. My fiance owns four such horrible shirts and he’s American. Hawaiian shirts are, IMHO, hideously ugly. Anyway. Just thought I’d say.

  5. jenna,

    I got the same nasty comment here but didn’t publish it.

    I also saw the film at Broadway in Gongguan and it had English sub-titles. It may be because they were screening it in the theatre with digital projection when you saw it. That may explain why the staff got it wrong.

  6. I didn’t publish it, either. But I have a very nice blog post of my fiance’s ugly shirts coming up (with his blessing)!

  7. I haven’t been to Taiwan since 1995. Your blog makes me miss it. I hope I can find this movie in the US. My Chinese is OK but my Tai yu is nonexistent. Cheers.

  8. Nice synopsis on Monga. As a native of Taipei who has since transplanted in the US nearly 20 years ago (but of course visit from time to time), the images, languages, culture and traditions certainly, as David put it, “evoke a [certain] nostalgia.”
    While the tempo was fairly well executed, I have to say that the plot was still a bit more predictable for my taste.

    By the way, I “procured” a copy through bittorrent.

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