December 3, 2023
Stars Jack Kao, Ally Chiu, Stephanie Lim Mei-ching.
From runaway, rebellious, delinquent and courageous to daring daughters of darkness and the dust, female offspring in cinema have come in all shapes, sizes and plot contrivances. Daughters of Satan, Dracula, Dr. Jekyll, Rosie O’Grady and Ryan have at one time or another all graced marquees. Don’t forget four daughters for my daughter, first daughters, lost daughters, a devil’s daughter, and Mrs. Brown’s lovely daughter. Farmer, general, ambassador, king, coal miner, devil bat and pig keeper alike all contributed a daughter to the cause, and don’t get me started on my boss’s daughter. Even Jesse James met Frankenstein’s daughter. There’s been a slew of small-screen offerings on the subject, but apart from Connie Corleone in The Godfather Part III, the big screen hasn’t devoted much multiplex time to daddy goodfella’s little wisegirl. Was director Chen Mei-juin’s 2017 effort The Gangster’s Daughter the riveting character drama we were longing for or an awkward tale of a Taipei mobster and his alienated daughter that at times plays like an escapee from an ABC After School Special?
We open in mid-hit. Of the two assassins that greet us, Boss Keiko (Jack Kao) knows how to brandish a pistol for dramatic effect, but looks dumbfounded as his partner steps in for the slaughter. Keiko may balk when it comes to killing, but nothing can stop him from ending his “business trip” with a stuffed animal, presumably purchased in an airport gift store, to be presented to his little daughter upon his return home. This first blush of sentimentality kickstarts a gradual upheaval that commences even before the credits roll. Fortunately, maudlinism never bares its fangs. With the cuddly toy in hand, young Shaowu (played in her teens by Ally Chiu) watches as daddy drives off, not to be seen again until a flash forward skips a decade or so and reunites estranged Keiko with his 14-year-old daughter at the funeral of his wife and her mother.
When an overzealous classmate pranks Shaowu, she goes full “like father, like daughter,” rewarding his effort with a cow dung shampoo applied liberally in the school cafeteria. With Shaowu becoming too much to handle, her grandmother arranges for Keiko to take the kid to the big city (and off her hands). Aware of Keiko’s preferred career, Shaowu romanticizes her dad out of proportion. With mom’s body barely cold, Keiko introduces Shaowu to his latest galpal, Coco (Stephanie Lim Mei-ching, anything but the stereotypical moll). Shaowu takes greater interest in dad’s second favorite squeeze, the bright shiny handgun she unearthed while rummaging through his personal effects.
Operating deep within Keiko is a strong moral compass rife with contradiction, a code burned into his fiber that makes him wholly unsuitable to succeed in his chosen profession. Put a bullet through the enemy’s eyes and he’ll hire you on the spot; deal drugs, and you can take your business elsewhere. It’s a complex moral dilemma that’s lightly touched upon before being brushed aside in favor of outfitting Keiko at the mall or celebrating his birthday. Humanizing only acts to prolong the inevitable. Wait until dad finds a dime bag of blow in his little girl’s pack of butts. Kao and Chiu spark a natural chemistry, but not enough to elevate it above the rank of better-than-average gangster melodrama or standard issue father/daughter bonding experience.
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