Sunday, February 21, 2010

Homegrown Monga Challenges Avatar at the Taiwanese Box Office

Taiwan's not known for its gangster films, but a new movie released earlier this month may change that. Monga (艋舺, pinyin: Měngjiá) - the title is the name of the notorious Taipei district where the film is set - is a crime film that has become a big box office hit in Taiwan. On its opening day on February 5 it raked in an impressive NT$8.3 million (about US$260,000), significantly more than the worldwide box office juggernaut Avatar collected on its first day (just under NT$7 million).

In Monga's first two weeks box office takings climbed to over NT$200 million, making it one of Taiwan's most successful films ever. It still has a long way to go however to catch Avatar. The US blockbuster, which is still running in Taiwanese cinemas, recently overtook Titanic to become the highest grossing film in Taiwan. Box office ticket sales have now passed NT$800 million since it first opened back in December. Strangely, Avatar's incredible success has probably benefitted Monga. As in many other countries, the phenomenal impact of Avatar has raised alarm in Taiwan over Hollywood's growing cultural dominance. So homegrown films like Monga have attracted publicity and a band of proud audiences keen to support the local product as a kind of counterweight to the American blockbusters.

Monga, which is as much a coming of age film as a gangster flic, takes place in the 1980s, an era lovingly recreated by the filmmakers. It stars up-and-coming actors Ethan Ruan (阮经天, pinyin: Ruǎn Jīngtiān) and Mark Zhao (赵又廷, pinyin: Zhào Yòutíng), both making their film debuts. 27 year-old Ruan has appeared in several TV shows, most notably the popular series Fated To Love You and My Queen. The 25 year-old Zhao appears to have the Midas touch when it comes to choosing roles. His career is just beginning but his TV debut last year - the police drama Black and White - was one of the most popular series of 2009 and won him a Golden Bell Award. Now he has struck gold again with his film debut. Monga is directed by Doze Niu (钮承泽), his second feature film and one in which he also casts himself as a memorable villain.

Monza is currently showing at the prestigious Berlin International Film Festival. A review of the film by Variety can be found here.

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