Set in 1980s Taiwan, after the end of military dictatorship, Monga centers around the troubled lives of five boys coming of age together. The narrator of the story, Mosquito, is invited to b... Read allSet in 1980s Taiwan, after the end of military dictatorship, Monga centers around the troubled lives of five boys coming of age together. The narrator of the story, Mosquito, is invited to be a part of the gang after a silly fight over a chicken leg. Mosquito has grown up without... Read allSet in 1980s Taiwan, after the end of military dictatorship, Monga centers around the troubled lives of five boys coming of age together. The narrator of the story, Mosquito, is invited to be a part of the gang after a silly fight over a chicken leg. Mosquito has grown up without a father and has never had any real friends, so after Monk, Dragon and the others take hi... Read all
Niu's film smartly harks back to the indigenous gangster counter-culture in the 1980s which is left with an indelible mark by auteur names like Edward Yang and Hou Hsiao-hsien, it takes place in the Monga ("Monga" means "little boat" in tribal dialect, it is today's Wanhua, Taipei's oldest district), local gangsters are safeguarding their respective turfs where street vendors, temples, brothels and their patrons are among the hustle and bustle peopled within the mazy, narrow alleys.
A 17-year-old Mosquito (Mark Chao in his star-making movie debut) moves to Monga with his single mother (Lin Hsiu-ling), bullied by classmates in the school, he is recruited to the "Gang of Princes" as their fifth member, nominally lead by Dragon (Vaughn), the son of the triad leader Geta (Ma Ju-lung), but the real savvy one is the consigliere Monk (Ethan Ruan), whose devotion to Dragon roundly surpasses the usual purview of scorned brotherhood, and Niu acutely channels the tangible bromance into the narrative but camouflaged as a brotherly friendship, and leaves the signals hither and thither without asserting the obvious. Monk, as his name suggests, is the only one who shuns the brothel, but through his intimate interaction with Dragon, and the benign gestures with Mosquito, we don't need to be spoon-fed to understand what is his deal.
Genre tropes start to encroach the gleeful tone when the quintet comes in for the usual hiccups, from a vapid girlfriend squabble, to a vengeful act (with super-glue) goes awry, until the impending annexing bid from a main-lander Grey Wolf (Niu himself, exuding understated menace but doesn't hog the spotlight by dint of his directorial clout), power-usurping is in the pipeline and assassinations begin to pick off the old-guards, which are designed in a cavalier fashion and to some degree distracts viewers from taking its graveness seriously. But a pivotal reveal portents the disintegration of their bond which will be topped off by blood-spilling fratricide, which also flags up Niu's penchant for over-egging the pudding with wordy elaboration albeit the stylish visual artistry (blood morphing into cherry blossom is a nice wrinkle).
The central young cast is gratuitously photogenic and Mark Chao comes off as slightly stilted but acquits himself in Mosquito's greenness and the consequential disillusion. But the showstopper without any doubt is Ethan Ruan, who won a coveted BEST LEADING ACTOR trophy in the Golden Horse Awards, which is the most prestigious recognition from pan-Chinese cinema. His endeavor impresses with both physical exertion and copious pathos. In the main, MONGA breezes a bracing air into the teen-gangster genre, which usually entails a veto of a mainland China release due to its unlawful subjects, and subsists its ethnographic mark remarkably.
- Nov 4, 2017