It doesn’t even seem possible that Jack Kao’s played aging gangster roles for more than 20 years, but here we are. The frequent Hou Hsiao-hsien star (A City of Sadness, Millennium Mambo) wasn’t ever actually a gangster (tattoos covering his back in many a film are merely the work of make-up artists), but he did hang around with them; Hou’s Goodbye South, Goodbye is based on some of Kao’s stories. The actor is perfect for The Gangster’s Daughter, the fiction feature debut of director Chen Mei-juin, a Taiwanese documentarian based in Los Angeles.
Ally Chiu plays Shaowu, a junior high kid who goes to live with her estranged father, a gang leader with a heart of gold, after her mother dies and she gets into trouble at school. Infatuated with the romantic nature of gang life—learned almost entirely through movies and pop culture—Shaowu idealizes her father. Chen at least in part demystifies that adoration; she plays this story to its inevitable, innocence-shattering conclusion of bloody and senseless violence. But the father-daughter relationship is warmly performed, highlighted by some lovely, terrible dancing. This is a film that’s at its best in the margins, exploring particularities of Taiwanese culture, its deities, rituals and the ordinance-infested landscapes of its small-island setting of Kinmen.
Previously published as part of New York Asian Film Festival | Dispatch 1.