Film Festival Movie Review

Film Review: THE GANGSTER’S DAUGHTER: A Good Catch, Whatever the Pond Size [NYAFF 2017]

Ally Chiu Jack Kao The Gangster's Daughter

The Gangster’s Daughter Review

The Gangster’s Daughter (2017Film Review from the 16th Annual New York Asian Film Festival, a movie directed by Mei-Juin Chen, starring Jack Kao, and Ally Chiu.

The Gangster’s Daughter was a film that took more time to build its settings, characters, and conflict, than most any other film, with ‘Gangster’ in the title, that you’ll likely find in this genre. It never veers from the bond – both familial & genetic (there is a difference) – between a veteran underworld Lieutenant, and the daughter that was made to spend her formative years apart from him. After a family tragedy forced a brief reunion, however, a more lasting reconnect became necessary.

Keigo (Jack Kao) – which was actually a nickname that refers to a little fish – was more eager, than prepared, to rescue daughter, Shaowu (Ally Chiu), from the backwater school mess her own precociousness had gotten her into. Shaowu – which was also a nickname, referring to a great dancer – had more spirit than anyone in this rural district knew what to do with. At the same time, Shaowu didn’t know much else to do with herself, in this setting, other than pick fights in defense of herself, and her one good friend. This came partly from Keigo’s blood (much to her Grandmother’s chagrin); so Shaowu didn’t fancy there’d be much adjusting necessary, when Keigo introduced her to a wider world she had only seen in video or manga form.

The fact that she used a camouflaged bunker as her personal hangout, up to this point, and played with relic hand grenades, instead of balls, spoke for itself; but this also meant that she didn’t have the proper respect for firearms, upon moving in with her dad, nor an appreciation for the realities to all the violence she had been consuming, as entertainment.

At no point does the film require us to assume Keigo wasn’t on the wrong side of the law (to put things nicely); but it was established, from the get-go, that he ran a tight ship, and preferred to keep operations neat & clean. Careful attention was paid to peripheral characters – each contributing to the depth of the larger character dynamic, and plot narrative. Little details mattered. Details like the fact that both Keigo & Shaowu’s nicknames spoke to past experiences, future expectations, and current predicaments that would all prove integral to the story’s undercurrent themes. In keeping with the film’s profoundly simple aesthetic, there were further allusions to fish/ fishing.

As the spunky Big Fish in a Little Pond, we’re supposed to like Shaowu. Ally Chiu just made it so easy, though – even at her worst, her character was demonstrably well-meaning, but fiercely determined about it. There might’ve also been the fact that she reminded me of a less ironic Mary Elizabeth Winstead… but I won’t get into that, here.

Jack Kao projects a nurturing father figure, with his role; useful both in Keigo’s interactions with Shaowu, and in how he endears himself to his small crew. While this mutual loyalty greatly served the eventual conflict of the film, that conflict – very subtly established within the film’s progression – becoming somewhat inevitable once Keigo brings the Big Fish to his Bigger Pond.

Of course, Big Fish with Little Pond diets often attract Big Fish used to Open Water prey. For a brief moment, Shaowu gets in with the wrong crowd; but this was less of a tangent for Shaowu, and more of an opening to broach a larger subject for both characters. Shaowu’s Big Fish spirit easily ingratiated her into Keigo’s world. With the uglier aspect to that world about to escalate, however, Little Fish Keigo now had a whole new kind of Big Fish to worry about.

The simple truth of the matter is that we were never shown the shadow of Keigo, that he so desperately wanted to keep his daughter out of. This made it easier to sympathize with Shaowu, since the Keigo we were presented with seemed to be a man worth emulating.

A less disciplined script could’ve easily emulated The Professional, utilizing these elements. Fortunately, The Gangster’s Daughter chose to have us invest more in what was at stake, than in any subsequent consequence/ retribution.

Given the subject matter, the outcome warranted some expectancy; but the film never sheds its emphasis on poignant details, nor does it abandon its focus on the family bonding narrative, for the sake of cathartic climax. The principal characters lived up to their nicknames – some in death, and at least one determined to learn how (though, from what I saw, it may take awhile).

The Gangster’s Daughter was tailor made for an audience that prefers the cake to the icing. A rare gem, that flips the script – putting the gangland conflict in service of a close family dynamic, rather than having things the other way around.

Don’t be too quick to catch & release this one.

Rating: 8/10

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About the author

Sam Joseph

Sam is an Avid consumer/observer of Geek culture, and collector of Fanboy media from earliest memory. Armchair sociologist and futurist. Honest critic with satirical if not absurdist­­ wit with some experience in comics/ animation production.

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