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Taiwan’s offbeat choice for Oscar entry

'Monga' strikes a chord

Named after the oldest (and hippest) district of Taipei, Doze Niu’s “Monga” represents both Taiwan’s past and future.

Past because the film is a compelling period piece, set in the mid-’80s at precisely the moment the country emerged from the shadow of Japanese and Chinese control to assert its own identity; future because its commercial success — almost $10 million to date, topping even “Avatar” in local release — suggests a rally for the country’s long-dormant film biz.

“In recent years, Taiwanese local production has been in the green stage, making only arthouse films,” explains Distribution Workshop CEO Jeffrey Chan, who is handling international sales on “Monga.” “Until last year, with ‘Cape No. 7,’ there had never been a major hit, but that film was only a drama.”

“Monga,” by contrast, is an ambitious, broadly appealing genre pic tracking the rise of a teen gang, featuring Hollywood-caliber production values, an attractive young cast and a number of stunning setpieces. Though it echoes the late Taiwanese master Edward Yang’s critically acclaimed 1960s-era gang study “A Brighter Summer Day,” the 141-minute “Monga” targets popular audiences with its portrayal of rebellious youths who reject the way of both their elders and outsiders from the Mainland in favor of personal independence.

“It recalls all the memories of that moment in Taiwan for audiences, and it does so within the mainstream gangster movie,” Chan says.

More from Eye on the Oscar: Foreign Language:
Winners circle back to Hollywood | Rookies of the year | Translate into English? | Taiwan’s offbeat choice for Oscar entry | Japan’s entry is an offbeat choice | Finnish ‘Life’ sets sight on Oscar | The contenders list

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