TAIWAN 2010  Directed by: Doze Niu Written by: Doze Niu, Tseng Li-Ting Produced by: Dennis Yu, Chan Ya-Wen, Yao Cheng-Chung, Chang Hsueh-Shun, Alan Tong, Doze Niu  Cinematography by: Jake Pollock  Music by: Sandee Chan  Cast: Ethan Ruan, Mark Chao, Ma Ju-Lung, Rhydian Vaughan, Teng-Hui Huang, Chang-Hsien Tsai, Doze Niu, Jason Wang, Chia-Yen Ko, Han Dian Chen

It is good to see that there’s a new wave of films coming out of Taiwan that has discarded the art house label and exchanged it for a remarkably independent thinking, wrapped with substantial commercial appeal. MONGA, from co-writer/director Doze Niu takes a look at juvenile delinquency, youth gangs and how people end up being professional criminals instead of doing a desk job for the rest of their lives.

When Mosquito transfers to a new school (not his first time) he encounters the usual problems, like being harassed by classmates, threatened to pay protection money or being robbed of a chicken leg. After some first struggle trying to find his place he is being adopted by a youth gang lead by Dragon, a hot-shot and son of a local mobster, who sees potential in him and protects him from then on. Soon after that, they found the “Gang of Princes” and become an up-and-coming triad force to reckon with.

But the times they are-a-changing, and so are the moods and attitudes of the once-close friends. While Mosquito’s only reason to join the gang was, and still is, camaraderie, a kind of friendship he has never experienced before in his life, the others begin to pursue other motifs, especially when the local triad organization is facing threats from outsiders. Very soon not only their friendship is put to a test, but their idealistic image of being a happy-go-lucky criminal is torn apart, leaving them staring at a harsh reality they chose to ignore until now.

Gang films are a commodity in the Asian movie scene, then again it’s also a commodity in real life. MONGA does not reinvent the wheel in terms of film making, neither does it offer an entirely genuine perspective on reality as we see it on the streets of the average Asian megalopolis, but it offers some damn fine storytelling, vivid characterization and a relatively unromantic look at the triad life in the 80s that turns out crueller than most of the characters, or us, would think.

MONGA approaches themes such as friendship, values, guilt or change from various angles, not limiting its view or claiming there’s only one truth to be told. The coming-of-age part of MONGA never feels at ease in shallow water, instead chooses to depict the process of growing up as a painful experience as far as the emotional response to the shit that happens goes – dealing with the circumstances of being a gangster more than anything traumatizes everyone beyond belief.

The ambitions you have, the choices you make are so much more difficult to defend and so much harder to make when you are not growing up in a sheltered suburb, but in a place that claims what’s yours, be it friends, loved ones, careers or dreams. You eventually realize that everything’s less permanent that you thought, and I can only imagine the paranoia of waking up in a fragile, permeable reality once you’ve fully opened your eyes, like Mosquito and his fellow gang members were forced to do.

MONGA, reminding me sometimes of the wonderful, little known but unmatched Korean BEAT has the rare ability not only to convey a message, but most of all what it means to feel the spark of life, and the threat of it being extinguished.


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