Monga is the latest blockbuster movie from Taiwan and it is playing twice on opening night of the Taiwan Film Days festival put on by the San Francisco Film Society.  This gangster movie by Niu Doze has several male heart throbs in the lead roles and tons of hand to hand group fight scenes--Thus making it a great date movie!  But maybe not a first-date because it is actually quite complex.

The fight scenes are a lot of fun.  The choreographic style is not classic kungfu, it is loose and even sloppy.  But that's a good thing because the characters doing the fighting are talented fighters, not skilled fighters.  The free-ness of the choreography tells us the protagonists are young, a bit crazy and that they clearly love fighting.

The plot basically follows the emotional development of a few young men-of-prowess, a band of brothers, as they deal with more and more confining choices and harsh fates.  The plot has some twists in it, some are fun, and some are brutal.

But what is really important about this film is that it attempts to deal with the historic role men-of-prowess played in maintaining a social order outside of government control. This is what makes the movie special.  The action is centered around a temple.  The temple itself is martial, and the lead characters are all devoted to a martial god.  The film beautifully illustrates the thesis of the scholarly work Bandits, Eunichs and the Son of Heaven:  In order to keep commerce safe enough to keep thriving in such a vast country, Chinese civilization has depended on complex sometimes haphazard alliances between men-of-prowess.  The central government was never strong enough to control banditry or rebellion on it's own.  Magistrates were spread thinly throughout the country but righteous heroes, often centered around a temple to a martial god, were easy to come by.  These rough independent men tended to walk a fine line between community service and community extortion(More posts on this idea are here, there, over here and here too.)

The film can also probably be viewed as an allegory for the conflicts between native Taiwanese and the Mainlanders who came with the Guomindang in 1949.  It can also probably be read as an allegory for the influence the current Mainland Chinese have on Taiwanese politics, specifically the conflicts over independence between the KMT and the DPP.  But honestly I probably missed most of the nuances of these allegories, you'd have to be steeped in Taiwanese politics to get them.  Hopefully one of my readers is steeped and will enlighten us in the comments below.

The film Monga (Taiwan, 2010) is showing a 6:15 PM and 9:40 PM this Friday, October 22nd, 2010. It's at the New People theater which is a fantastic new theater in Japan Town.  Check it out!