By James Topley, The China Post
February 5, 2010, 9:34 am TWN
This Chinese Lunar New Year, Taiwan welcomes to theaters its latest gangster flick, starring pop idol, Ethan Ruan (阮經天), and actor, Mark Chao (趙又廷).
This movie kills two birds with one stone as without a doubt, "Monga" puts Taipei on the commercial movie map, while also drawing interest in Taipei's history; something that even the movie's young stars were not fully aware of prior to filming.
The director, Niu Cheng-Ze (鈕承澤), also wrote the script of the movie produced by Li Lie (李烈). In addition to Ruan and Chao, veteran actor, Ma Ru-long (馬如龍), from "Cape No.7" and the lesser known, Rhydian Vaughan (鳳小岳) — rising star of 2008's "Winds of September," play significant roles in this local drama.
The name 'Monga' refers to today's Wanhua District in Taipei (萬華區). Its name originates from the Austronesian word 'bangca,' meaning canoe.
For centuries Monga has been a trading town and the name came about due to early settlers traveling to market by canoe with their daily wares. The town was renamed under Japanese occupation to Wanhua, due to its similar sounding name.
The movie portrays a period in Taiwan's history synonymous with the conflicts between rival gangs. This was especially prominent in Wanhua District, and despite the story being a work of fiction, it is filled with the memories of Niu's youth.
From the outset though, Li and Niu pulled all stops for the film, as they refused to believe "Taiwan is incapable of making an entertaining commercial movie." But despite the limited number of successful, locally-produced movies in recent years, Warner Bros. ate it up and chose to release it during the Lunar New Year holiday period. "Monga" will soon open in more Taiwanese theaters than Warner's other recent offering, "Sherlock Holmes," did. So if you're here during the New Year, chances are you'll have an opportunity to watch it.
Set in 1980s Taiwan, after the end of military dictatorship, "Monga" centers around five boys who join a gang because they are tired of being pushed about. As they relish their new social standing, they soon discover that being gangsters in 'Monga' comes at a price.
Other gangs have their hearts set on the thriving locale. Soon the boys' world as they knew it is thrown upside down.