Chris Knipp Writing: Movies, Politics, Art

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PostPosted: Tue Jul 04, 2017 4:12 pm 
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Bad girl and wise guy

Chen Mei-juin, a documentary filmmaker, enters the gangster film world crabwise in her feature debut, The Gangster's Daughter, through a father-daughter relationship in which Taipei wise guy Keiko (Hou Hsiao-hsien regular Jack Kao) is reunited with his daughter Shaowu (Ally Chiu) and each tries to move in the direction of the other. Keiko is a feisty girl, a bit of a tomboy, left to be raised by her grandmother on Kinmen Island, a Taiwanese county lying closer to China than to Taiwan. She gets in a fight and is sent to live with her dad in the big city. In the event, Keiko takes parenting seriously, sternly disciplining Shaowu - though they have an almost inappropriately comradely relationship, but good vibes. Keiko is a boss on a limited level: he has two guys in his crew, raised up there since they were Shaowu's age.

While Keiko rejects his overlord's turn from gambling and prostitution to a more lucrative drug trade, Shaowu gets into fights at school and links up with a boy who does drugs. Emulating her father, she gets a tattoo on her back. Keiko's trying to be more on the up-and-up. Shaowu has a naive fascination with the gangster world. In class when introduced she says her hobby is collecting weapons. In a school fight she calls herself "Shaowu the Bad." This amuses Keiko, but he has the wise guy's parental puritanism. He is enraged when he finds she has unwittingly brought home drugs and won't even allow her to be accompanied home by a boy, let alone have a boyfriend. Shaowu's bravado hasn't been fully tested, but maybe she's the tougher of the family members. When she achieves mafia-style retribution by dumping a bucket of cow manure on a schoolboy bully and his father turns out to be a city councilman, it looks like maybe Shaowu's headed for a career in radical politics.

Despite lively scenes, though this movie has reportedly done very well on home turf, it lacks truly defining moments. Throughout the action meanders and the energy doesn't really heat up and move toward the inevitable showdown till 90 minutes in. That's too long to wait, even for a humanistic twist on a crime picture. Chen's screenplay needed to play up the intimacy more, and the violence level as well, to give the action some contrast and bite. Shaowu and Keiko make an odd couple with good chemistry, and the gangster movie trappings are here. But when a bad cop is the scariest dude and schoolkids' clashes have the same voltage as gang tiffs, you know something's off.

At the 90-minute point, Keiko's two posse members and girlfriend are shot in a club gunfight where the bad cop has tracked them down. Keiko's fantasy with going straight is dropped and he must go for vengeance over fatherhood. A final montage is a sentimental distraction. This is a film bookended by funerals, but neither the warmth nor the fatalism and grandeur are there. The attempt to blend a teen school movie and a noirish crime film doesn't quite work.

The Gangster's Daughter/林北小舞 ("Showu the Bad"), 105 mins., debuted 10 March 2017 in Taiwan. Reviewed as part of the NYAFF (shown 28 Jun. 2017), the North American debut with Chen Mei-juin in attendance. This was the Taiwan entry in the seven-film Main Competition of the NYAFF.

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