Monga, the Film

I'm looking forward to the release of the government-funded movie, Monga (艋舺), which according to accounts is about the gangsters and prostitution that are rampant in the neighborhood I live in. Here's a quick, cool trailer. Only one word is uttered, an oddly-pronounced "Monga", or Manka.

Directed by Doze Niu (鈕承澤), the film though not released is already controversial, as some don't like it's portrayal (I'm guessing they're getting this from the trailer) of Taipei's ancient borough, Monga or Manka in Taiwanese (Hoklo) and Wanhua in Chinese. The Taipei Times wrote up on the movie last week and the controversy: Here's the link: http://www.taipeitimes.com/News/taiwan/archives/2009/12/01/2003459824

I don't really have a problem with Wanhua (Monga / Manka) being portrayed as a gangster and hooker haven. From the accounts of locals that live here, it is / was exactly that. I guess what critics object to is the viewer might not understand that the area had a golden age before all the scum crept in. 300 years ago, Wanhua was one of the Taipei basin's three most important communities. Those communities, Wanhua, Dadoacheng (大稻埕) and Danshui, later merged to create the city of Taipei. At one time, an armada of boats sailed up the Danshui River daily to dock in Wanhua, or Manka / Monga, as part of a trade network that extended to the south of Taiwan, China, Japan and the West. Those days have passed us by, mainly because the river silted up to the point where around 150 years ago, large vessels could no longer make it up river (Wanhua is around 35 km. from the Taiwan Strait).

Over the past 100 years, several prominent gangsters have called Wanhua home. I guess the most well-known would have to be Hsu Hai-ching, who went by the nickname of Wen Ge (蚊哥), meaning the "Mosquito Brother".

The Mosquito Brother died four years ago at the age of 93, after gagging on a piece of raw fish. His story is a long and interesting one. Someone should write a book about his life, as they might get at the workings of the government here, and specifically, how enmeshed it has been with organized crime. The Mosquito Brother started out in Wanhua during the 1930s while Taiwan was still a colony of Japan. He, like any person of his generation, was able to speak Japanese. When Japan fell to the US and Taiwan was invaded by the KMT, the Mosquito Brother simply adapted to a new regime and got on with business. His ability to work with different groups earned him another very cool sounding title: The Final Arbitrator. Hsu's resume was impressive; he had links to the Japanese Yakuza, the Bamboo Gang, the gangsters that Chiang Kai-shek came up with in Shanghai and whom he imported to Taiwan to do his dirty work during the White Terror era as well as more organic Taiwanese clans, from which Hsu came.

I also remember reading about Tsai Tai-ting (蔡岱廷), a pachinko parlor operator, who died a spectacular death in 2007 at a wedding, when an assassin unloaded a dozen bullets into him and then fled after hailing a cab.

My own neighborhood in Wanhua is called Ga-la King after a benevolent gangster who liked to eat oysters, hence the "ga-la", which is oyster in Taiwanese (Hoklo).

More on Monga after I've seen it.


Anonymous said...

“All residents — young and old alike — are opposed to it,” he said.

I think such a blanket statement does not include everyone.

Patrick Cowsill said...

Oh, you're talking about the comments in the Taipei Times then? "Qingshan Borough (青山里) chief Lee Chao-cheng (李昭成) criticized the movie, saying organized crime was only a small part of Bangka’s history." He / she is talking like a politician. But there is no context. I wonder what else was said. Not the best reporting.

coeurdalene said...

I very much enjoy when an author explores the human element surrounding the likes of Mosquito Brother, Tsai Tai-Ting, Ga-la King, etc. What kind of husbands were they? What kind of parent? What kind of friend? Did they follow a faith-based creed or a simple code of street honor? What were their REAL strengths and weaknesses... and what drove them to be who/what they were?

I hope to hear more!


Anonymous said...

Certainly Manka gives most of the common people an impression of Yakuza’s and Hooker’s city. However, as a movie, it can be anything. Our question is that is it proper for the government official to sponsor such kind of movie as a propaganda movie? Ideally a propaganda movie should be a documentary that consists of histories and views, like “Viva Tonal,” for example.
Well, take it easy fellow readers, any incredible thing is possible under the KMT ruling as seen in the past, the longest martial law in human history, the white terror, and the 228 massacres, just mention a few; Manka incident is merely a peanut compared to any of them, don’t you agree?

Patrick Cowsill said...

"Ideally a propaganda movie should be a documentary that consists of histories and views, like “Viva Tonal,” for example." Do you see the present government doing much to promote our understanding of White Terror or 2-28? Do you think it'll happen? (Though Lee Tung-hui was in the KMT, and he did a lot to bring the 2-28 massacre into the discussion.)

Manka / Wanhua has a lot of interesting things to make a documentary or a movie. Remember that "Monga" is a movie. They probably want to make some money, hence sensational themes. I haven't even seen it, so I don't know one way or the other right now. But I get your point.

karingel said...

Googled for info about 'Monga' the movie I found your blog.So I am asking: Have you seen the movie now? I've done. Germany held the 60.'Berlinale' Film Festival in February 2010. So I got the chance to watch the movie. Two days before I watched it and it was amazing! A colorful picture of Monga, action, intrigues and a special kind of humor- that's it. I liked all main actors, but esp. Mark Chao. And I love the movie part with the drums sound! And I'll definitly buy the DVD.I live in Germany and it isn't easy to watch asian movies and it is expansive to buy them (via Y** or other i-stores).
BTW But if there is a prize to win for the movie or its actors in Taiwan- so I hope for Ethan Ruan, because Mark Chao got one last year.So Ethan Ruan doesn't have to wait '20 years' as he stated.;)

Brendan said...

I thought "oyster" in Taiwanese was "oh-a", not "ga la".

Anyway just saw the movie. With no English subtitles which means I didn't pick up on huge swaths of plot details. But it was good.

Patrick Cowsill said...

My Taiwanese is useless. "La" is a big oyster, I suppose a mussel. "Ge le" is oyster in Mandarin. The cab driver told me "Ga la king" and I just made an on-the-spot call. He's the king of a shellfish. But the king could mean anything as well. He was definitely a gangster; the rest is right.

Karingal, I haven't seen it. I am hoping to get free tickets, because I'm supposed to write about it. Maybe this weekend.

scchiang said...

I'm Taiwanese, but I often get confused with all kinds of shellfish. After googling, I think "oh-a" (or "mu le" in Mandarin) is oyster, "ha-ma" (or "ge le" in Mandarin) is clam, and "la-a" is basket clam.

I just watched Monga yesterday. It is overall the best (and maybe the only?) commercial Taiwanese movie in recent years. As being a Taiwanese audience, I feel the only pity is that the main actors do not speak genuine Taiwanese as the other actors such as Geta, making the movie a little unrealistic. But after all, it brought me smiles and tears.

I also noticed that what I watched has only Chinese subtitles. Since the movie was played in Berlin as well, I guess there should be English subtitle version, although I don't know how to get it.

Patrick Cowsill said...

I was really curious about how the usage of Taiwanese would be in this film. Hopefully you'll be able to expound upon your comments scchiang. What do you mean about their Taiwanese not being authentic?

scchiang said...

Bangka (or Wanhua) is the oldest district of Taipei. Most elder people's mother tongue is Taiwanese, and some of them speak more fluent Japanese than Mandarin because Taiwan was Japan colony. For younger generation, they were forced to speak Mandarin in schools, but they probably had to speak Taiwanese at home since childhood.

As a result, some actors' Taiwanese accent is weird to me. It's something like when Ziyi Zhang played Sayuri in Memoirs of a Geisha, you could tell that she's not native English speaker. In Zhang's case, it may not matter since the role she portrayed is a Japanese girl (although it is still weird that Japanese character speaks English). However, in Monga, it makes some characters not so convincing.

But overall, I think it's a small flaw comparing to their performance, the story, art design, etc.

Patrick Cowsill said...

"Most elder people's mother tongue is Taiwanese, and some of them speak more fluent Japanese than Mandarin because Taiwan was Japan colony." My wife's grandma, who has lived in Monga her whole life, speaks Japanese and Mandarin about the same. I have to talk to her in Mandarin because my Taiwanese is so lousy. We're on about the same terms. I can see her pausing to look for words when we converse. She's pretty smart though. She learned Mandarin on the streets; I learned it in a classroom (and spent a lot of money doing so). She learned to speak Hakka also, just because some of the neighborhood kids did, when she was running wild on the streets as a little girl in the 1920s.

scchiang said...

I left a comment in one of Monga's staff's blog yesterday to ask about English subtitle. He/she answered that the non-digital version has both Chinese and English subtitles, whereas the digital version has only Chinese subtitles. So if you (or someone else who need English subtitles) would like to go to theater to watch this movie, remember to pick non-digital one.

The staff's blog (in Mandarin): http://www.office-sola.com/blog/?p=1420

Patrick Cowsill said...

Thanks. I'm starting to understand Taiwanese. My mother-in-law forgets and talks it to me, jumbled up with Chinese. Or, maybe that's how she has to talk.

Chinese subtitles don't bother me. They're usually short and easy to follow. I practice keeping up with them (got to read quickly) when I'm running on the treadmill and watching the TV (with the volume muted). Once again, cheers.