Mongaby Sihle Mthembu / 20.11.2010
A tale of cruelty and vice set in 1980’s Taiwan. The film follows five boys who create the Gang of Princes to defend themselves against bullies. But their lives spiral into gangsterism. It’s not a subject the Taiwanese director has tackled before. Criticised for a total disregard of historical culture, Nui is hardly the poster boy for Asian cinema.
But Monga is an alluring cross section between the inner city gangster film (reminiscent of City of God) and ancient folklore – similar to Zhang Yimou’s Hero. Taipei is a backdrop to much of the action, a direct tribute to the city and its people. The film has a rich descriptive style informed by contemporary Taiwanese literature.
It has a strong ensemble cast with no outright lead. Monga has a lot in common with Third World Indie films. The film’s dark grit is reminiscent of Ana Kokkinos’s Blessed (based on Frances O’Connor’s play Who is Afraid of the Working Class). Or Caroline Kamya’s Imani – striving to place individuals in a broader social context unlike so much mainstream cinema.
Style wise Monga is stronger than Nui’s earlier work. Less personal. It is more than an action film, but not merely another art film either. Mixing high and low, It is kind of a throwback to martial arts films like Kurosawa’s The Last Emperor and Ang Lee’s Crouching Tiger Hidden Dragon. Even bubble gum cult films like Karate Kid and Enter the Dragon are in there.
Monga hopefully represents a new wave of Guerrilla filmmakers out of Asia making films that toy with the past to explore current complexities in a region undergoing massively conflicted social change.